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Ohio Tears Through Blighted Housing Problem
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Ohio Tears Through Blighted Housing Problem
Ohio Tears Through Blighted Housing Problem
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

State governments are deciding what to do with their share of $25 billion. The money comes from a settlement with major banks over abusive foreclosure practices.

In Ohio, a lot of the money will go to demolishing foreclosed homes.

Brian Bull of member station WCPN has the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMOLITION WORK)

CEDRIC COWAN: Somebody tearing the house down. I didn't know it. I thought somebody was moving in there.

BRIAN BULL, BYLINE: Cleveland resident Cedric Cowan didn't expect to wake up to a home being demolished on the other side of Fairport Avenue. Cowan lives in a neighborhood hard hit by foreclosures.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMOLITION WORK)

BULL: Over the course of three hours, an excavator smashes, crushes, and pulls apart an abandoned two-family house. A worker sprays the rubble with a hose to keep the dust down. Cowan says he can't help but feel relief.

COWAN: Because I been seeing people moving in houses that is vacant. They don't pay no rent. And then the house catch on fire. So I'm glad they're demolishing this one.

BULL: Shuttered homes often draw arsonists, vandals, and scrap metal thieves. Ohio attorney general Mike DeWine wants to destroy abandoned homes all across the state. He's setting aside $75 million of the state's mortgage settlement money to fund demolitions.

MIKE DEWINE: I wanted to make a bold statement, set an example. And say that our state's never going to be the great state that we want it to be, when we have neighborhoods that are being eaten alive by these homes.

BULL: Besides being a crime risk, crumbling old homes drive down property values. DeWine says demolition helps out those he considers the real victims of the foreclosure crisis: neighbors.

DEWINE: If you live in a house and you're paying your mortgage, and the value of your house was $120,000 and now it's $60,000 because you live by a neighbor whose house is abandoned, you're a victim.

(SOUNDBITE OF DEMOLITION WORK)

BULL: Back at Fairport Avenue, the excavator has gutted the old two-family home, and is crushing debris under its treads.

(SOUNDBITE OF CRUSHING NOISE)

BULL: A root canal is the way to describe this demolition says Gus Frangos of the Cuyahoga County Land Bank. In three years, his organization has torn down nearly 800 houses. Frangos says it would cost up to $80,000 to restore this house, more than 10 times the cost of simply tearing it down.

GUS FRANGOS: The siding and the wood is rotted. The interior walls are bad. All of the mechanicals, the electrical, the plumbing, everything is missing, stripped. This is one of those examples of thousands of properties that are decaying neighborhoods. And we need to try to stabilize the tax base by removing that decay, so that people don't live next to the stuff.

BULL: The City of Cleveland has spent more than 40 million in city and federal dollars to demolish 6,000 vacant homes since 2006. Attorney General DeWine is pushing cities to match the state's demolition dollars in order to destroy the largest possible number of homes. This pleases Jim Rokakis. He's director of the Thriving Communities Institute.

JIM ROKAKIS: If the AG's 75 million leverages another 75 million, we're talking $150 million, $150 million will take down 20,000 structures in the state, or about one-fifth of the total. That is a powerful impact.

DENNIS KEATING: The money even matched by local governments would barely make a dent in what we already have in backlog of vacant, abandoned housing, and I expect we'll have a lot more in the future.

BULL: That's Dennis Keating, a professor of urban planning and law at Cleveland State University. He says the problem is bigger than what the demolition fund can tackle.

KEATING: So again, glass half full would say that would take care of half of what we have now; the half empty, we'd still have thousands more.

BULL: Attorney General DeWine says Ohio should receive its mortgage settlement money next month.

For NPR News, I'm Brian Bull in Cleveland.

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