Terry Glazer of United North has emerged as one of the wise men in the city as we talk about how to deal with the blight problem. When I spoke with him the other day, he was amused at his sudden guru status. Some of the people who now praise him are people with whom he fought in the past. But that’s OK. He’s been in neighborhood organizing for most of his adult life, and he’s happy for some recent victories in the north end — like the refurbished North Toledo fire station and saving the North Toledo YMCA.
He’s also happy if people want to look beyond blight.
We can and should do better blight enforcement, he says. And he agrees with the mayor that the housing court needs to move faster and with more decisiveness. Maybe we need a second judge. (Mr. Glazer said he’d eventually like to see a housing court judge with training in community development and housing.)
But Mr. Glazer also would like to see policies and programs that attack the causes of blight. He mentioned three when we spoke the other day.
1) A comprehensive approach to home ownership and stabilizing neighborhoods.
He’d like to target three to five neighborhoods and “do everything” there — rehab of homes, job counseling and training, community centers with day care, and GED courses. The works. Intensive and systemic. This has always been the United North approach.
There are political problems with this model — no member of City Council is going to give up his pet program or piece of the pie to concentrate resources elsewhere. And, of course, where would we get the money? But Mr. Glazer’s point is that where reclaiming neighborhoods and creating opportunity really have worked — be it in Harlem or Richmond, Va. — there is a systemic or comprehensive concentration. Scatter-shot bureaucracy always fails.
2) Show proof of ability to maintain property.
He’d favor legislation requiring that buyers show the wherewithal to maintain properties at the point of sale. He says much urban real estate is bought by out-of-town speculators who plan to flip it for a quick buck but who can’t or won’t maintain it.
Better to screen the flippers out in the first place.
3) Mothball the good ones.
He’d recommend that the city create a mechanism and procedure for holding abandoned homes — ones that can be saved and eventually sold. We have no way to mothball these potentially good homes now. So, when abandoned, they are left open to vandals and eventual blight. How much better it would be to be able to secure these homes and hold them for eventual new tenants.
This is a solid practical idea that would not take much money. But it would mean involving city and county government. The Land Bank does great work, and United North does great work, but they need help from the city.
Terry Glazer and United North actually do hands-on rehabilitation — saving one house at a time or, for example, saving and operating the Ohio Theatre. Mr. Glazer is a guru now because of that experience and pragmatism.
And because of longevity. He’s been around since the late 1970s, and he’s hung in. He’s believed in the Vistula District and seen its potential since then. He still believes, still sees that potential. He tells me “the blue house” on North Superior Street has a new roof and is now owned by United North. I went to look at it again. It will take a lot of work. Maybe it’s not the Valentine Theatre, but it is an interesting and significant property in a part of town that no one else champions.
One house at a time. One family at a time. Mr. Glazer is a unique preservationist. He is practical, and he plays the long game.
Keith C. Burris is a columnist for The Blade.
Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6266.