Moving Ohio Forward helps neighborhoods heal

The foreclosure crisis left a trail of abandoned and deteriorating properties across towns and communities in our state. In 2012, Ohio was among the 49 states that reached a settlement with five of the country’s largest mortgage servicers as a result of the foreclosure abuses, fraud and intolerable mortgage servicing practices that caused the crisis.

While most of Ohio’s share of the national mortgage settlement was designated for consumer relief, cash payments, and loan modification and refinancing, we were determined to help those affected by the foreclosure crisis and to repair some of the damage left in its aftermath.

We dedicated $75 million – more than any other state – to demolition grants for distressed properties through the Ohio Attorney General’s Office Moving Ohio Forward program, which we launched in May 2012.

By combining our money with local matching funds, we were able to direct over $119 million to the demolition of more than 14,600 blighted housing units at an average cost of $8,148.75 per demolition.

The foreclosure crisis victimized property owners who did their best to take care of and keep their homes in the face of adjacent broken-down structures depressing their property values, breeding crime and discouraging economic recovery. Our program made demolitions a priority because clearing foreclosure-ravaged neighborhoods of abandoned structures generally lifts property values and sparks community rejuvenation.

The Moving Ohio Forward program gave all 88 counties access to demolition dollars to tear down vacant and abandoned properties. Every county was allocated grant money based on the number of foreclosure filings from 2008-2011, the period covered by the settlement. To maximize its effectiveness, our program called for counties to apply for the funds, determine their demolition needs, develop a strategy for using the funds and match the grant dollars after the first $500,000.

The visible impact in the towns, on the streets and through the lives of those it affected is perhaps the best measure of the program’s success.

For example, Mansfield used Moving Ohio Forward funds to eradicate an abandoned home, as well as the health and safety threats it generated, where 21 separate police and fire calls constantly diverted municipal safety resources.

In Newark, a quadplex with no heat, no hot water, broken windows and a badly damaged roof was evidence of an absentee owner’s chronic neglect. The property had become a haven for squatters and drug users, and the police and fire departments were called there almost weekly. When families on the street learned the structure was slated for demolition, several members took off work to celebrate!

In Hardin County, the police were called to a three-story structure for drug-related activities so frequently it was dubbed the “Heroin Hotel.” The owners were so pleased with the results of the demolition that they deeded the land to the village of Forest for use as downtown green space.

The mortgage foreclosure crisis upended thousands of lives and disrupted dozens of Ohio towns and neighborhoods. While we were not able to make all of them whole again, the Moving Ohio Forward program did help restore property values, regenerate economic development potential, and ensure that citizens and families have a stable and safe place to live.