Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Rehabarama & Urban Triage

The recent Rehabarama at South Park has received some attention in the local blogs. Esrati had a pretty good discussion going, For the Love of Dayton has touched on some of the political attention this is getting, and Gem City gives a brief recap of a visit.

I posted on Rehabarama at Urban Ohio, but perhaps a broader discussion on the concept of Rehabarma, historic districts, and urban triage.

Here are the historic districts around downtown that still need work. Two districts, McPhersontown and Oregon, are not shown as they are more or less finished. One neighborhood, Fairgrounds, is not really a "historic district", but is being treated as one.
As there are seven districts, doing an annual Rehabarama and assuming a different neighborhood each years, means a 7 year cycle before a neighborhood can expect another rehab event.

That's too long.

Here is an excelerated schedule. Assume two Rehabarmas a year, one in the spring and another in the fall. And balance out the neighborhoods (or not, maybe adjacent neighborhoods could have a year; for exampel St Annes Hill in the spring of 2009 and Huffman in the fall, or vice versa).

I like the balance idea a bit better though:

By doing this quick schedule a historic district could be seeded with new renovations every five years, to build on ongoing renovations. Rehabaramas could also be targeted to sub-areas of a neighborhood that are not seeing that much rehab work. An ongoing law enforcement and code enforecment effort could also be implemented as a social service support to the renovation effort.

That way the historic districts can be brought back quicker.

Why just historic districts? Accept that Dayton is a dying city. Perhaps not dying because no large city in the US has ever really died, but just shrinking quite a bit.

This means resources (i.e. tax money) is limited and declining. How to allocate?

Focusing on historic districts ringing downtown is a form of urban triage, saving places that can be saved, mainting places that cant, and letting places die that are beyond saving. Lifeboat ethics for urban decline. Or an urban Noah's Ark to save representative types of architecture and urban environments.
Cold as it is, it sounds good on paper. But the realpolitik is that no politician or bureaucrat will ever admit to such a strategy in public, nor it would not be feasible given the amount of voters in the dying neighborhoods.

A more realistic, less cynical concept would be to use the Rehabarma "rehab seeding" to expand historic districts.

Example being the Inner West area. One historic district, but a set of nearby areas that could use help. Use mix of new infill housing and Rehabarama rehabs to ratchet up the interest and activity in these areas (which are already seeing remodelling and infill construction).


kevin said...

Rehabaramas are costly. And by that token can be argued as really not economical. For Dayton to forward the money that they did in the past to save 6-12 houses is really insane. People want to see the schools improved, more cops on the beat, etc... not 2-3 million dropped on saving half a dozen houses in a neighborhood they don't live in. Dayton does not have that money anymore. City of Dayton only fronted $100K for the publicity of South Park's Rehabarama and the rest of the funds were private, and we're still talking a couple million.

Now, there was a follow up, of sorts--the political kind--that wants to address the financial issue of saving innercity neighborhoods, but on a federal level: article. People will argue, which have no ties to the innercity, will not want to see their tax dollar go and save a few houses where they don't live.

I think the scope for saving Dayton neighborhoods, and as a whole, begins bringing businesses (and not manufacturing) back within its borders, thus increasing a tax base and improving services, then image and people, then the neighborhoods.

I wish what you proposed could be done, otherwise. Every neighborhood in Dayton should get a shot of good publicity and rejuvination. Thanks for the post, Jeff.

kevin said...

Ack, I didn't follow your links first. Sorry for the redundancy.

kevin said...

Follow up.

Anonymous said...

As one of the two private developers behind this year's RehabaRama in South Park, I'd like clarify some things here.

Michael DiFlora (The Home Group) and I (Theresa Gasper, Full Circle Development) have so far invested nearly between $2-3 million in private capital. To date we own nearly 30 houses between us - 9 of which were included in the show. A couple of those homes have been rented to quality tenants who ultimately hope to buy, but have extenuating circumstances preventing that for the time being. The 30 homes are in various states of renovation, some near completion, some still not started. The point being that the $2-3 million goes beyond the 9 show houses.

Our goal has been to reduce the number of vacant properties to raise the overall property values in the neighborhood, thus giving the City and County a greater pool of resources. It's not gentrification - we are buying boarded up houses that have been vacant on average for 5 years or more. We're trying to repopulate the area while maintaining its diversity.

Kevin is correct that the City fronted $100k for the HBA of Dayton to market & stage the event. Many of their departments were very cooperative in helping us revitalize this neighborhood - Housing Inspections, Code Enforcement, Police, Landmarks, Planning, etc.

Our hope is that other QUALITY investors will join our cause - and not just in South Park but in other Dayton neighborhoods. The City simply does not have the resources to turn around all of its neighborhoods. It's going to take private investment, with a little help along the way from public resources.

What's typical of RehabaRama and similar events is the domino effect that ripples through the community. Current homeowners tend to invest more in their properties as they believe they'll now be able to realize a gain on that investment when they ultimately move on.

Many slumlords are deciding it's no longer worth it; same with some undesirable tenants whose activities are less than legal. They're tired of being watched, reported, watched & reported. It's the concept of "Broken Windows"...if the criminal element feels no one is paying attention, they'll set up shop in an area. The more eyes you get on the street watching them, the more uncomfortable they become and they move on.

While this is probably the worst timing in the world on our part between the foreclosure crisis and its impact on available credit, and a very weak housing market - we're hoping to position ourselves for the eventual relocation resulting from BRAC.

We'll have greater success selling to out of towners relocating to Dayton who aren't tainted by preconceived ideas. In other words, they won't know how bad Dayton is until they get here and we tell them all about it!

One of our greatest obstacles is the real estate community - because of Dayton Public Schools, the perception of murder & mayhem in all City of Dayton streets, and a belief that the only people who live in Dayton have no other housing options - realtors tend not to show buyers anything within the City of Dayton limits. Unless and until we can prove to the realtors in this community that some people actually WANT to live in the City and will spend good money to live there, things won't change much.

It's going to take a series of baby steps. However, I believe that there are many individuals from the Dayton area who have done well financially and are in a position to give back. It would be wonderful if each of those people somehow found a way to go back to the neighborhood they grew up in and try to make a difference.

We're trying to reduce the number of rental properties. We're not looking for people who are trying to capitalize on our investment and make a quick buck - we're looking for others who are committed to the City of Dayton, to home ownership and to giving back to their community.

I have no clue if what we're doing is the right model or not - and while the road appears to be quite long, we do appear to be on the right track. Our hope is that if we can continue to raise property values, the City will have the resources to spend on the services everyone wants most - fire, water, police, schools. But it will have to be a collaborative effort, the City just doesn't have the ability to do it on their own.

Jefferey said...

Are you seeing much interest from other builders and developers in doing more Rehabaramas?

I had thought past Rehabaramas were mostly private- sector funded from the start, and the city just had a hand in determining the neighborhood and maybe some publicity.

I didn't know the city had fronted the money for earlier Rehabaramas.

David Esrati said...

Yes Jeff- the first rehabaramas were city funded money losers. This one- the juries still out, but thankfully both Michael and Theresa had deep pockets and a lot of gumption.
We're now seeing the politicians quietly abandon neighborhoods- with admission. The problem is- they really abandoned them all years ago- in their pursuit of "economic development"
Thanks for your insight- and connecting these posts to my site.