Neighbors glad eyesores being erased in Butler County

Tyara Green peeked through the front door of her grandmother’s old house last week as a crane clawed off the back of the broken down structure, saying it was time to “cut it down.”

The home in the 300 block of Hanover Street in Hamilton had been boarded up and the siding ripped off until it was razed by the Butler County land bank.

Green lives with her other grandmother across the street but grew up in both homes. She said it was a bittersweet day.

“It probably needed to be torn down, definitely,” the 21-year-old said. “I’ve got a lot of memories here actually.”

Katrina Montgomery, who lives right next door, said a chunk of the roof smacked into her house when demolition crews started their work and the whole structure shuddered. But she said the workers assured her any damage from the tear down would be covered by their insurance.

She is very happy the land bank is in the blight-busting business.

“I’m glad it’s going because it’s pretty spooky, you never knew who was going to be in there and looking through my windows…,” she said. “I think any development that betters a neighborhood is a good expenditure of money.”

The land bank learned this week they will get fresh infusion of federal cash, to the tune of almost $1.8 million. The land bank asked for $3 million but Holly Swisher, the state's Neighborhood Initiative Program manager, said the demand — requests totalled $203 million — for the Hardest Hit Funds far exceeded the supply.

“The dollar amount we had available to allocate, the requests were more than double that,” she said. “We looked at how much each land bank had already spent of their current allocation to determine the allocation amounts for this round.”

Land Bank Executive Director Mike McNamara said so far Hamilton has spent $755,203 on acquisition and demolition and Middletown’s expenses under the Hardest Hit program total $219,372. They have received $119,731 worth of reimbursements. He expects $1 million in reimbursements will either be in hand or in the pipeline by the end of September.

Under the Moving Ohio Forward program they were reimbursed almost $2.6 million and had an additional $2 million in expenses.

“We have reimbursements outstanding and expect to receive another reimbursement soon,” McNamara said. “As we progress through the summer — the months when we can really step up demolitions — we will be issuing more reimbursements.”

Butler County commissioners agreed two years ago to siphon 1 percent of delinquent tax and assessment collection funds (DTAC) to bolster the land bank and open up services for the entire county. DTAC funds are late payment penalties on real estate taxes. The 1 percent garners about $130,000. The commissioners' funding approval opened up land bank membership to the entire county. With the addition of Lemon and St. Clair townships this week, there are now 13 members, including Hamilton, Middletown, Trenton and Fairfield, Hanover, Liberty, Oxford, Madison, Morgan, Ross and Wayne townships have all joined.

With that new funding source the land bank was able to qualify for $2 million from the Hardest Hit Fund program through the federal government in August 2014.

With $2.7 million it received in Moving Ohio Forward grants from the state, Butler County formed a land bank four years ago to deal with blighted buildings. The cities of Hamilton and Middletown each gave $1.1 million in matching money. The two cities are currently working through $2 million in HHF money, removing as many as 120 eyesores.

The land bank also recently received a report — compiled through a joint partnership with Center for Public Management and Regional Affairs and the Center for Analytics and Data Science at Miami University - that show their work is beneficial both for property values and foreclosures. The study also pointed out that erasing eyesores also helps the environment because they are removing things like lead and asbestos that are now known to be harmful.

McNamara said there is also another “invisible” benefit. They were able to convince nine homeowners to clean up their act, thus avoiding demolition.

“We were able to bring a number of land owners into compliance after filing for foreclosure in the targeted neighborhoods,” he said. “When we are able to collect past taxes and hold property owners accountable without having to spend the money on demolition, that is a positive outcome of our activities as well.”

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