Butler County blight busting tool to get review

The Butler County land bank will once again look to Miami University students to give them a cost/benefit analysis of the blight busting tool.

Miami University students in the Center for Analytics & Data Science spent months analyzing data three years ago, to try to determine whether bringing down blight was achieving the goal of stabilizing neighborhoods.

MORE: Butler County might branch into commercial blight demolition

Since its inception the land bank has razed 372 eyesores in Hamilton and 265 in Middletown at a total cost of $7.3 million, the lion’s share paid for with state and federal funds. Land bank President Mike McNamara said because more eyesores have been removed since the first study published in spring 2016, it is critical for them to refresh the analysis.

“Gathering and analyzing information about our programs is essential in the decision-making process,” he said. “The baseline study that we did in 2016 served to validate what we’ve been doing so far… I think that ongoing benchmark of understanding the long-term impact of the land bank is important in making decisions on how we approach blight elimination and land re-utilization.”

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The students found property values of homes within a 500-foot radius of a downed eyesore increased 29.65 percent in Hamilton but a “statistically insignificant” amount in Middletown.

Meanwhile, banishing blight in Middletown had a positive effect on foreclosures but the results were not the same for Hamilton.

“In determining the effectiveness of the Land Bank thus far, the results of the current analysis suggest the possibility of positive spillover effects related to blight removal,” the students wrote. “Specifically, blight removal is associated with higher home values (in Hamilton) and lower incidences of foreclosure (in Middletown).”

Middletown City Manager Doug Adkins said there are a lot of studies out there that tout the success of land banks but a personalized approach here is valuable.

“Although there are studies around the United States that document the benefits associated with removing blight and returning tax delinquent property to productive use,” he said. “It’s important that the Butler County Land Reutilization Corporation consistently evaluate the results of our work specific to the local impact on Butler County parcels.”

A 500 percent leap from about 500 to 3,000 foreclosures between 1999 and 2010 prompted the establishment of the land bank in 2012. There was also state money available the cities of Hamilton and Middletown wanted to tap into. In the beginning only the two largest cities were members of the land bank because they ponied up $1.1 million each in order to collect Moving Ohio Forward monies.

Since then millions more has come available through the federal Hardest Hit Fund Program and a one percent cut of delinquent tax assessment and collections funds (DTAC).

County Treasurer Nancy Nix, who is chairman of the land bank board and chiefly responsible for bringing the local land bank to fruition, urged the commissioners several years ago to allow siphoning DTAC for the land bank. She said they needed the local match dollars to cull more outside funding and it also allowed the land bank to open its membership to other jurisdictions.

Membership in the land bank now includes: Fairfield, Hamilton, Middletown, Seven Mile, Trenton and Fairfield, Hanover, Lemon, Liberty, Madison, Oxford, Ross, St. Clair and Wayne townships.

The land bank considered asking the county commissioners for more DTAC funding — that funding source brought in $145,255 last year — recently but decided their one percent was adequate for now. The commissioners were a bit reticent to do so since it takes away from other jurisdictions like schools that get a share.

The commissioners also treaded very cautiously early on when the land bank asked to use expedited foreclosures — which allows sidestepping multiple sheriff sales — in order to meet quickly looming deadlines for the HHF federal program.

Commissioner Don Dixon said he is well pleased with the county’s blight eradication tool.

“I think you have to continue to keep moving forward or you move backwards,” Dixon said. “Our board is constantly looking for new innovative ways to be able to use it and do more commercial demolition and larger projects, so I think the study is important, but it (the land bank focus) changes daily and it changes as the economy changes. In one year you’ll have different needs than another year.”

McNamara said a Miami intern will be working in his office culling data from a number of sources this summer — and will be paid a stipend — including foreclosures, home sales, information from the cities, even crime stats as part of the larger study.

Allison Jones-Farmer, the Van Andel Professor of Business Analytics & Director of the Center for Analytics and Data Science at Miami, said with several more years of data now available, a more robust picture of the land bank’s performance will be possible. She said for the first study they had a pretty short time frame from which to draw conclusions.

“I don’t have a good grasp of sort of the frequency of the blight removal at this point and how well distributed that is over the cities,” she said. “But we hope that it is of such that we’ll be able to draw some better inferences as to what impact the land bank has had on the community… It’s hopeful over this time horizon we’ll be able to get a more solid grasp of what it’s doing.”

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