Portage County to demolish houses through grant

Audrey Fletcher

Portage County joined Ohio’s initiative to help counties reclaim their neighborhoods.

The Portage County Regional Planning Committee and the Portage County Land Reutilization Corporation will use $1.125 million in grant money to demolish abandoned houses and blighted residential properties to provide for a safer, cleaner environment.

“I just think it’s a health hazard to have those properties around. It’s dangerous,” said Vicki Kline, county treasurer and chairperson of the Portage County Land Reutilization Corporation. “It brings down property values.”

The county received the grant money in 2012 through the Moving Ohio Forward Demolition Grant Program. The grant initially gave the county $500,000. Another $312,800 was offered if the county could match the funds.

About 16 units will be demolished by Nov. 30, and 90 to 100 more will be demolished by January 2014.

However, Kline said the project isn’t just about making neighborhoods more pleasant to the eye.

It is about getting these properties back on the tax roll.

The Portage County Land Reutilization Corporation was formed after the grant was received.

Kline and the reutilization corporation asked for 5 percent of delinquent tax dollars to go towards the corporation to make up the matching funds needed to receive the extra $312,800 from the grant. It raised the matching funds, making the total amount for the project $1.125 million.

The corporation then contracted with the Portage County Regional Planning Commission to help implement the grant.

Todd Peetz, director of the Portage County Regional Planning Commission, said local governments identified about 150 houses they would like to be demolished.

In order for a house to be eligible, it must meet the following criteria:

  • Must be abandoned
  • Must be condemned
  • The building department, health department and fire department in each community must agree the house is beyond repair
  • Must not be a commercial or industrial building

Generally, the biggest issues reside within the house, and they are not noticeable from outside, Peetz said.

The problem extends beyond attractiveness in the neighborhood, Peetz said. The abandoned homes also become safety issues because homeless people can live in them, and others can use them to sell or use drugs.

Peetz said when homeowners are notified that their houses may be torn down, some tear their houses down themselves. For others, the notifications push them to fix up the houses.

“It’s not all about the evil government taking houses down,” Peetz said. “It’s working with (homeowners) as well.”

If someone’s house is torn down through the grant, the county will lien the property for the cost of the demolition, each of which costs $10,000.

After the implementation of the grant, Kline said she would like to continue the project.

“We’re going to do as many as we can, and then, obviously, after the grant money has run out, we’re still going to try to carry this forward and keep doing it,” Kline said.

Kline said the reutilization corporation will stay in place after the implementation of the grant because it is a good opportunity for the county to continue to improve.

“After this is over, we’re hoping to then help commercial and industrial areas. That’s very exciting to me,” Kline said. “If this does like I want it to do, this could improve Portage County so very much.”

Audrey Fletcher is a city reporter for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her [email protected].