When East Toledo Family Center community builder Jodi Gross calls an open meeting to talk about housing issues as part of the “One Voice for East Toledo” initiative, residents start lambasting property owners.
Their biggest fear — absentee property owners.
These investors often live out of state, or in another country. Chances are they have never actually visited their own homes. “Some are out of Germany, and some out of England and it is just awful,” said Judge C. Allen McConnell, Toledo Housing and Environmental Court Judge.
It doesn’t matter if an uncared for property is residential or commercial, it only takes one property to create a blighted neighborhood.
“We’re finding some interesting things with some of the people who are investing and buying properties right now. Some are buying them on the Internet,” said Bob Krompak, NeighborWorks economic development specialist.
“For example, we had a mixed-use building in Birmingham and it could be redone as some sort of business with apartments on top. But, the owner is in Sao Paulo, Brazil,” Krompak continued.
One burned-out building in South Toledo is owned by someone in Warsaw, Poland. “(It) is wide open to the weather. There are holes in the roof and windows out on the second floor, and it sits on Marion Street in the middle of this nice, little working class neighborhood where it’s blight on the neighborhood.”
More and more the buyers are Chinese, and Krompak can only speculate as to the reasons for that.
“My brother worked for a really big company in Toledo, and he was telling me about a guy that he knew in China, a gentleman he worked with that was in the automotive business just like his firm was.
“The guy told him a story about how he was trying to buy some property in the U.S., and he says, ‘I’m trying to offshore as much of my resources as possible because you never know when the wind is going to change over here.’ And, he told a story about how his mom and dad owned a retail store and then the cultural revolution happened in 1964, and a couple of guys came in one day with guns and said, ‘You still own this store here, but now you are peasant farmers’ and marched them out to the countryside and the next thing they knew they were hoeing a rice paddy and they’ve lost everything.
“They were extremely industrious people, and after the cultural revolution, they went back to town, they worked their way back up, but they never forgot that lesson that at any time when you have that type of government, somebody else can take over and decide to do things like that. So, it’s best to get your money out of Dodge.
“I think a lot times people don’t understand whether they are serious or if they are just parking their money. It could be one or it could be the other.”
That doesn’t mean these homes are not always being taken care of. Krompak has one example. “I went down one very nice street here in Garfield, and five of the houses on that street are empty. Someone is cutting the grass and trimming the bushes, but as soon as you go up you can tell they are vacant.”
“They aren’t any for sale signs in front of them…This is a phenomenon that you see more often, because once a sign goes up, that’s like a sign saying, ‘Strip me. Take my copper pipes.’”
No matter where these investors are from, knowing exactly who they are is another problem.
“What they do, is they will end up purchasing the property, but many times they will purchase it not under their individual names, but as an LLC, or a trusteeship, or something that sort of disguises who they are,” Judge McConnell said.
“They’ll flip the property over and walk away from it, or get whatever they can out of it. But if it fits, and they are unable to make any move on that property and it starts to deteriorate and they have it as an LLC, well the LLC doesn’t give the name of the person in the organization to reach and contact. What they’ll do is give an address or location, and if you move against that, of course you’ll have trouble trying to find them.”