Butler County hoping to get back $620K it was forced to return to the state

Butler County’s new land bank chief is confident it won’t lose more federal blight-busting dollars and she is seeking to expand the grant-eligible footprint to jurisdictions outside Hamilton and Middletown to recoup $620,000 that was lost last year.

The land bank missed a mid-December deadline to spend $3.2 million demolishing eyesores. A surge in property acquisitions by Middletown will consume 60 to 65 percent of the remaining $1 million in funds.

RELATED: Butler County land bank out $620,000 due to missed deadline

The program reimbursed Hamilton for acquisition and demolition of 153 properties, while Middletown was reimbursed for 44 and Fairfield Twp. was reimbursed for four.

County Treasurer Nancy Nix, who serves as president of the land bank, said the county can compete to recoup the lost funds. Middletown City Manager Doug Adkins told the Journal-News his city has been razing ramshackle homes according to the city council’s direction, as part of a plan they are developing to transform the city’s housing stock.

“The vacant, blighted houses in those neighborhoods are mostly down. The remaining blight in those grant-eligible neighborhoods is with occupied houses, which are not eligible under this grant,” Adkins told the Journal-News. “I fully understand the county’s and the land bank’s concerns in returning grant funds, but Middletown only had so many qualifying properties to work with.”

When asked if the city would participate in trying to get some of the money back, Adkins replied, “Given our ongoing housing policy discussions, it would be premature to open up demolition to other areas.”

Adkins described the city’s housing problem to the land bank board a little over a year ago saying the city “shot itself in the foot” when it significantly increased Section 8 housing in the late 1990s. He said the city has too many vacant houses, too many functionally obsolete houses that people don’t want to live in and too many landlords not properly maintaining properties.

Commissioner Don Dixon said he understands Middletown has different needs and those do not necessarily fit the mold of the grant. Going forward, he said he hopes they can utilize all the funds they can get county-wide, including other communities.

“We’ll see how much Middletown thinks they can use in their program and we’ll try to redirect the rest,” he said. “We’ll reach out to the rest of the county and see if we can’t use it there.”

MORE: Butler blight-busting agency approves spending more local funds

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

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 that the cities of Hamilton and Middletown wanted to tap into. In the beginning, only the two largest cities were members of the land bank.

Two years later, Butler County commissioners agreed to use other funds to bolster the land bank, help raise the required matching funds and open up services for the entire county. For the first two years, only the cities of Hamilton and Middletown benefited from state and federal programs designed to beat back blight.

As of last July, the land bank has razed about 382 eyesores in Hamilton and 277 in Middletown at a cost of $7.3 million, most paid for with state and federal funds.

Former land bank leader Mike McNamara sought the help of Miami University students in the Center for Analytics & Data Science a couple years ago, to try to determine whether bringing down blight is achieving the goal of stabilizing neighborhoods. 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 true for Hamilton.

“Interestingly, in Middletown, there is a strong association between blight removal and foreclosures,” the students wrote. “Such that proximity to a demolished property is associated with a significant reduction in the likelihood of foreclosure when comparing similar properties.”

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