WYSO Curious is our series where listeners ask questions and WYSO producers find the answers. Today we answer a question from two different listeners: Jade Haygood and Mike. They asked us to find out what’s happening with vacant and abandoned homes in Dayton. They wanted to to know whether there’s a plan to deal with them and how that’s going.
Some abandoned homes can be renovated and reused, but many others can’t be saved and have been recommended for demolition. In 2015, the City of Dayton began demolishing abandoned homes in partnership with the Montgomery County Land Bank. The Land Bank got 18 million dollars in funding from a statewide, federally-supported program. According to Mike Grauwelman, Executive Director of the Land Bank, the plan is to demolish 1,100 homes by the end of 2019.
"We’re doing it in 35 targeted neighborhoods," says Grauwelman. "So although the problem might exist throughout the community...we’re targeting areas that the neighborhoods are what we would refer to as 'tipping point', meaning but for some intervention and the removal of these blighted properties, the neighborhoods might go into a continued state of decline."
No one really knows exactly how many vacant and abandoned houses there are in Dayton. The City’s Planning and Development Division says there are more than 1,200. But Grauwelman estimates a much higher number, about 8,000, which he says is based off of 2010 U.S. Census data.
Some people say the city is only focusing its demolition efforts on certain neighborhoods and ignoring minority or low-income neighborhoods. Shauna Hill, the Dayton Planning and Development Division Manager, says that’s not the case, "We focus on all the neighborhoods...there are major arteries that run through all of them."
Hill says the city’s demolition plan doesn’t include homes based on specific neighborhoods, but Lynn LaMance, a neighborhood activist, says she sees it differently.
"The demolition in this area has primarily been focused on Five Oaks and the Riverdale neighborhood, because they’re closest to downtown," she says. "If you start getting away from downtown, moving up North Main Street, there is practically no demolition."
LaMance spends some of her freetime seeking out vacant and abandoned houses. She says the city should be paying attention to these neighborhoods, especially because there are a lot of kids who live in them.
"We have more children in this section of the city than any other part of the city. And it’s like, why isn’t it cleaner? Why isn’t it safer?"
She’s referring to "the addicts, the prostitutes, the metal thieves, the homeless" who sometimes go into a vacant or abandoned house and "finish tearing it up. They may set it on fire."
LaMance says that’s why people who live around vacant homes should care, those fires could affect them too. LaMance tries to find the property owners to ask them to fix up their homes. Tracking down those owners is difficult. Sometimes the owners are deceased.
"A lot of them will be out-of-state-owners. You’re supposed to have someone here locally caretaking the property. Some of the out-of-state owners have told me they’ve paid someone to mow, they’ve paid a property manager or realtor...but they’re not taking care of it."
She says it's a huge problem, and we could see that as we drove around the upper Riverdale neighborhood, north of downtown, as she wrote down the addresses for the vacant homes.
We stood in front of a property that is owned by the city of Dayton, but the grass is long in the front, the bushes are covering the front door, there are windows broken. We drove around back first where the garage is completely burned down.
Even though the city has a plan to demolish some of the vacant and abandoned houses, LaMance believes it’s not enough. She doesn’t want to wait to see the community get better.
"I know it can be better. I think it can be better. So that’s why I do something."