Volunteers working with One Voice for East Toledo posted a map in their so-called “war room” that keeps tracks of properties surveyed for the Lucas County Land Reutilization Corporation, or land bank.
“The goal of the land bank is to have a data base of all properties in the whole city of Toledo, so that’s important,” said East Toledo Family Center community builder Jodi Gross, the One Voice leader.
“They are started in East Toledo and they’ve started in another neighborhood. The other tbing is to identify blighted properties, properties that are in good structural, sound shape that people can either put up for rent, for sale, or the land bank could possibly find end users for them.
“Then we’re also identifying the empty lots. So if two neighbors have an empty lot between them, that whole land acquisition can come into play. At the beginning of a neighborhood there could be a couple lots where they could put a community garden and possibly a sign that says, ‘Welcome to, and whatever the neighborhood is at that point.’”
However, they have a daunting task if they want to complete their survey of 11,000 parcels on this side of the river.
“We’ve seen some properties already coming down where we’ve been, so that keeps you motivated to keep going,” said One Voice economic committee co-chair Amy Tingley. “It’s definitely not something that is going to be done tomorrow and it’s going to take some time.”
Tingley guarantees the job will get done.
“We want to take down the blighted homes, take down the ones that are properties that are getting people moving out of the neighborhood,” Tingley said.
“So the beautiful homes, those people are going to stay because they are cleaning my neighborhoods versus everyone is kind of running for the suburbs. We’re trying and we’re doing what we can.
“Our resolve is not to give up, even it’s just Jodi (Gross) and me out there. We’ve been getting on the average of five to eight volunteers, and two of them this past Saturday focused on their area, so we figure maybe it’s a divide and conquer mentality. We are bound and determined to do what we can.”
Land Bank director Cindy Geronimo says there is a goal of 100,000 parcels to survey county-wide, and East Toledo volunteers were the first to begin surveying. In the first two Saturdays, volunteers finished a verified 500 homes, and the land bank has yet to certify how many were surveyed on a third Saturday, although Gross estimates it at about 200.
The next three surveys are scheduled for May 31, June 14, and June 21 and volunteers were walk neighborhoods from 9 a.m. to noon each day. Volunteers first meet at Michael’s Café and Bakery in the Weber Block Building on Front and Main streets.
The surveys are conducted using any IOS or Android operated smart phone or tablet. Gross says surveyors evaluate the condition of the property, adding “it is an easy and quick process.”
“We’re having some difficulty getting volunteers because folks think it is a verbal survey,” Gross said. “It’s not. It’s a technical survey. We need people to understand that it’s a simple process. You don’t have to talk to anybody.
“The technology that we’re using, because we’re using tablets or smart phones, it actually is an application that is on the tablet or phone that you literally hit a checklist. You hit a button and it tabulates it for you, so it’s so simple.”
Even though Gross says you don’t have to talk to anyone, that doesn’t mean somebody won’t want to come up and talk to you. Usually, that makes the work even easier, Tingley says.
“Some of the residents, you can tell, are more into making sure that East Toledo is on the upswing,” Tingley said. “They will come out and ask us, ‘What are you doing?’ and then once we tell them, they’ll start telling us about the different houses and starting giving us some of the information.
“The technology makes it so easy. One of the ladies from Block Watch, she’s been in East Toledo since way before my time, and we dropped it off at her house, and as we were standing there talking to her she was telling us about some of the houses. I turned to Jodi and said, ‘Why don’t we do (her) neighborhood while we are here?’ so Jodi took one side and I took the other and we had that block finished within 30 minutes,” Tingley continued.
“So, it doesn’t take long. It’s just getting the people comfortable to the neighborhoods because they are a little leery about what are people going to say, are you taking pictures of my house?
“We have our land bank (identification) on, but we had one lady and she said, ‘Hey, excuse me, but are you taking pictures of my house?’ and then what we explained to her what we are doing, that we are with the land bank and we have a grant, and then she was all about it. She said, ‘Great, thank you so much.’ We said, ‘We’re trying to raise your property values, we are trying to get the blighted properties out of here.’”
Tingley says volunteers can limit their surveys to their own neighborhoods, if that helps.
“What we’ve also done is there are residential neighborhood groups, and there are a lot of them in East Toledo, and they wanted us to focus on each one and finish each one at a time, but what we’re finding is people are more comfortable in their own neighborhoods that they are familiar with,” Tingley said.
“So, some people that I work with came up to me and said, ‘Hey, I saw your picture in the newspaper and you are doing these surveys. How do I do my neighborhood?’ We’ve started branching out to get more people to volunteer by saying, ‘You can focus on your neighborhood — your surrounding area.’”
Commercial properties, too.
It’s not just residential properties — commercial buildings are surveyed, too, including one building on Starr Avenue that was formerly a small convenience store.
“I think it caught fire years ago, and it’s been sitting vacant ever since and it’s a real eyesore,” Tingley said. “The roof, from where I’m assuming, the firemen had to cut holes in it. There is a beautiful home across the street from it, there is a beautiful home next to it, but then you’ve got that. When we were going around with the land bank, we saw that and said, ‘We are going to see what we can do about that one.’”
At the start of 2014, the land bank had 1,526 parcels county-wide, including 468 single family, 54 residential, 934 vacant lots, one industrial, and 69 commercial. It had 341 in pre-acquisition, 449 currently owned, 158 sold with a rehab reverter, 575 sold with no rehab reverter, and three leased parcels.
The land bank was recently awarded a $6 million grant from the Ohio Housing Financing Agency, the second-highest total of 11 land banks statewide receiving a combined total $49.5 million to tackle blighted communities.
"The Neighborhood Initiative Program will provide much-needed relief to Ohio counties with a large number of vacant and dilapidated homes," said OHFA Executive Director Doug Garver. "This program will not only alleviate the burden of blighted neighborhoods on families, communities and Ohio's economy, it will also help to keep individuals in their homes."