Redevelopment project targeting 40 Hilltop homes

on Friday, 02 November 2012.

“The sense of community here is very strong”

Across the eastern half of the Hilltop are 150 houses so fire-damaged or dilapidated that they should be demolished. That’s the assessment of Leah Werner, project manager for a Dayton-area development company that surveyed the neighborhood over the summer. Her for-profit company is working with the nonprofit Homes on the Hill to build or fix up 40 houses in the neighborhood in 2014.

She and Hilltop leaders say they hope that the lease-to-own houses will take shape on those lots.

Steve Torsell, executive director of Homes on the Hill, said he would like to see some houses renovated for the project.

“One of the ideal things would be to take a street and plaster it with a bunch of new houses,” said Geoff Phillips, who leads the Highland West Neighbors Association.

The organization represents the neighborhood bounded by the railroad tracks just south of Valleyview, I-70, Sullivant Avenue and Hague Avenue.Phillips and others say they hope that clusters of new and rehabilitated houses would spark more interest in redeveloping an area hit hard by foreclosures and blight. Werner estimates that 20 percent of the houses in that area east of Hague are empty.

“A number of us have been discussing a need for a comprehensive housing study because this area of the Hilltop has been ignored,” said Nancy Rhynard, a Greater Hilltop Area commissioner who owns commercial property along W. Broad Street.

“And while that area has been ignored, the housing stock is moving on a downward plane of value."

Werner said that Multiple Listing Service data shows that from July 2011 through July 2012, the median sale price for houses in the Highland West neighborhood was about $13,000.Some Hilltop leaders say they see this effort as akin to the one the city, business leaders and others are making to transform a section of the South Side.

“This is what we’ve always needed on the hill,” Phillips said. “It looks like we have the organizational structure and the partnerships over here to make a lot of good things happen.”

The eastern Hilltop hasn’t found a champion yet to spearhead a change — someone like Jim Grote, the Donatos Pizza founder and South Side native who is helping to lead the effort in his former neighborhood.

Homes on the Hill has scheduled an open house for 6 p.m. on Nov. 12 at Hilltop Lutheran Church, 12 S. Terrace Ave., to discuss recommendations for demolition and redevelopment.

Torsell said the group has been meeting with residents to get their input on what they’d like to see. He said he wants to know whether it’s possible to group the new and rehabbed lease-to-own houses on two or three streets.

Werner’s Oberer Companies, of Miamisburg, has applied to the city to buy 15 land-bank properties in the neighborhood for the lease-to-own project, said John Turner, the city’s land-bank administrator.

The developers say they also will apply for low-income housing tax credits in February to finance the project.

Most of the 150 houses on Werner’s list are vacant.

Werner said 57 properties have been identified as potential sites for the 40 houses, including the 15 in the land bank. She hopes the remaining lots could be acquired through expedited tax foreclosures and placed in the land bank.Justin Boggs, the area commission’s vice chairman, said that, though he supports knocking down abandoned houses, he doesn’t want to see “gaping holes” that add to the blight.

“I don’t mind a vacant lot as long as it is maintained,” he said.

Gene Klingler, who bought her N. Wheatland Avenue home close to a decade ago, said it’s hard to convince potential homeowners to move into the neighborhood when the house next door is burned out and empty.

She said she also would like to see rows of houses removed and believes the neighborhood can come back.

“The sense of community here is very strong,” Klingler said.


By  Mark Ferenchik

The Columbus Dispatch Friday November 2, 2012