A.J. Wagner’s Neighborhood Plan
Monday, March 4th, 2013 @ 9:30AM
Our neighborhoods are dying. Over the last three years we spent ten million dollars tearing down irreparable houses only to fall further behind. The vacant houses, overgrown yards, trash filled alleys and unrepaired homes are a cancer driving out residents who feel an urgency to leave before their property values fall further.
We are in need of more than triage; we need aggressive treatment that will combat the disease of urban blight before our neighborhoods succumb. Fewer than half of our properties are now owner occupied as investors, speculators, banks, tax lien purchasers and vacancies take over our streets creating more and more housing code violations that have overwhelmed an understaffed enforcement department.
We need a doctor, literally. I am a uniquely qualified Juris Doctor who has experience as an attorney in code violations, as a county auditor who has experience in property tax enforcement, as a judge who has handled numerous housing and foreclosure cases, and as a probate referee and counselor who has seen heirs walk away from property in Dayton rather than deal with the complications of property maintenance on something of little value.
What follows is a treatment plan for a city with a dire diagnosis. Many of the treatments are from best practices in other cities, but some are radical new treatments needed to stop the cancer of deterioration. These new treatments are born from the creative application of existing law that will give Dayton a chance of recovery and new life.
A.J. Wagner’s Neighborhood Plan
As a candidate for Mayor, I am proposing a four part plan to create vibrant, safe, and healthy neighborhoods that protect, and restore Dayton’s heritage. We must stabilize and re-energize our neighborhoods, collaborate to promote Dayton, invest in our neighborhoods and create a community participation program that listens and responds to the needs of our citizens.
I. Stabilize and Re-energize Residential Neighborhoods
The very survival of our neighborhoods and our entire City requires an expanded level of accountability and focus. Many of our neighborhoods are in a dismal state of decline. Dayton spent $10 million over the last three years on housing demolition only to fall further behind on the number of houses that cannot be saved. This trend can only be reversed through a strong enforcement of housing codes on absentee owners.
The plan I am proposing consists of the following recommended critical solutions:
- At the time of sale, a property’s exterior must be up to code or the costs to make the necessary repairs must be escrowed. My goal is to speed up the code enforcement process, especially against absent owners, by asking the City Commission to eliminate any 30 day courtesy notice. Next, I will seek to shorten the overall notice process and hearing process while limiting exceptions and excuses for failure to bring a property up to code. I will ask the Commission to approve a “point of sale” ordinance without exemptions that requires houses to either be brought up to code at the time of sale, or to place money in escrow at closing to bring the house up to code. Finally, I will also ask for an ordinance, that applies to all real estate transfers, requiring complete disclosure of any housing violations and acceptance of notice at the time of closing so that any legal process is not interrupted by additional notice requirements.
- The length of time for irresponsible property owners to repair blatant and ongoing violations must be much shorter. I will seek additional money to increase the depleted inspection staff. I will also advocate that the staff have the best in technological tools to create efficiencies in their work. Police, waste collectors and citizens will be empowered to submit pictures and information of violations to be processed without the need for additional inspection.
- We must create clear, objective, measureable and totally transparent criteria for the inspection process. Qualified and trained zoning and housing inspectors are essential for the process to be successful. Every effort must be made to make the enforcement process open and transparent so that neighbors and neighborhood leaders can stay abreast of enforcement efforts being made in their community.
- All penalties must be enforced through Housing rather than the courts all with penalties imposed as liens on property. I will recommend increasing the power of enforcement by asking the Commission to approve civil penalties for housing code violations. This will eliminate the need to take every case to court which expends significant enforcement time and energy. Penalties for failure to abide by standards will only be taken to court for a civil judgment that can be certified as a lien against all other properties owned by the offending party. This means that speculators who walk away from properties without caring for them or paying taxes can be held accountable by tying up their other properties in Montgomery County with liens from the property they have abandoned. I will seek to work with the banks and the courts to stop the abandonment of properties after foreclosure has been started.
These critical solutions are based on best practices adopted by numerous cities throughout Ohio and the nation – with demographics similar to Dayton and state-wide statutory law similar to Ohio.
II. Collaborate to Promote Dayton and Advance the Region
As a candidate for Mayor, I commit to develop a concrete and accountable plan to promote investment in Dayton and to advance the greater Dayton region for all. I offer my knowledge and long-term dedication to our region as a leader who will unrelentingly promote Dayton and its neighborhoods to local and national stakeholders.
Collaboration is a vital component for the success of our neighborhoods and our entire city. My experience and long-term commitment to our region have proven that I can successfully build lasting and collaborative relationships with diverse individuals and groups. As your Mayor, I have what it takes to bring individuals together and focus on solving the long-term issues that have challenged our city for too long.
With your support, I will work with the City Commission and City Manager to develop a master plan for each neighborhood in collaboration with neighborhood and business associations, the faith community and other non-profit partners to define and prioritize public improvements and service levels for the next four years.
III. Invest in our Neighborhoods – We have the Foundation to do it!
Every neighborhood must derive its strength from within. To do that, neighbors must gather and talk with each other. They must work to build a community with each other. Every area of the City should have, within walking distance, a park, community garden, coffee shop or restaurant, convenience store with healthy food alternatives and a health clinic.
We cannot ignore that some of our neighborhoods need to be rebuilt brick by brick. We need to tear down obsolete homes and commercial buildings, but we must save what can be saved through investors and local labor that will build our economy as well as our neighborhoods. We need to utilize the many existing state and federal investment incentives and tax incentives for people to rehabilitate abandoned houses and commercial buildings. These include state and federal historic tax credits, low to moderate income tax credits and new market tax credits – all existing investment incentives that have been sorely underutilized by our City.
I will emphasize these incentives as part of a collaborative partnership with local, regional and private developers and investors ranging from first-time home buyers to larger scale developers and non-profit organizations.
We have the ability to apply a variety of investment incentives that consist of tax abatements, loans, infrastructure and program specific TIF’s (tax incremental funding). Every neighborhood will undertake a strategic planning process with short term goals that will equal long term achievements. We can look to best practices around Ohio to view prime examples of neighborhoods being revitalized. In Cincinnati, the neighborhood of Over-the-Rhine went from one of the poorest run-down neighborhoods to one of the most promising in a six year period through the use of tax increment financing and tax credits. The City of Columbus has sixteen neighborhoods using tax increment financing and tax credits. Cleveland, through Key Bank, has available to homeowners, a 2% loan for redoing residential properties. Our Dayton historic districts are a phenomenal economic and cultural asset and provide a model that can be adapted to motivate residents and employers to invest throughout our entire city.
IV. Creating a Community Participation Program
Many of our neighborhood leaders and residents are striving to change their communities from within. It is critical that the City support and build upon that dedication, talent and leadership at the grass-roots level in all neighborhoods throughout the city. I hope to create a true citizen participation system where neighbors can identify their needs, communicate them to the city, get a rapid response, and work with City administration to resolve their issues. The Priority Board system may, unfortunately, be gone before I become Mayor, but I believe in citizen participation. You have my commitment to adopt the principals of the International Association of Public Participation in order to rebuild a citizen’s participation mechanism. These principals include:
1) The City must provide the public with balanced and objective information to assist them in understanding the problems, alternatives, opportunities and/or solutions for their neighborhoods.
2) The City must obtain public feedback on analysis, alternatives and/or decisions.
3) The City must work directly with neighborhoods throughout the process to ensure that public concerns and aspirations are consistently understood and considered.
4) The City must partner with neighborhoods in each aspect of a decision affecting a neighborhood, including the development of alternatives and the identification of the preferred solution.
5) The City must have the confidence to place much of the decision-making in the hands of the public.
To this end, I am proposing a city-wide weekly breakfast/lunch club (similar to most service clubs) for neighborhood and community leaders to meet informally to discuss among us the needs of our communities and how we can work together to meet those needs.
“I have lived in four of Dayton’s city neighborhoods spanning nearly forty years…longer than any other candidate for Mayor. Combined with my employment as a Legislative Aide for the City Commission, hands-on experience in the office of the City Manager, as well as a Development Specialist in Dayton’s Department of Planning and Development, I am confident that I have the experience and perspective to understand the needs of our citizens and lead our City Administration in listening and responding to our neighborhood leaders.” – A.J. Wagner