Bill Aimed at Rebuilding Communities with Vacant Properties

Following a key committee vote, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, discussed critical legislation that would improve the livability of Ohio communities and direct federal assistance to communities with a high concentration of vacant and abandoned homes due to major population and job loss.

A version of Brown's Community Regeneration, Sustainability and Innovation Act, which he first introduced in 2009 with Ryan, was included as an amendment to the Livable Communities Act of 2010. Portions of the bill cleared the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee earlier this week and await consideration by the full Senate.

"Older industrial cities that served as the backbone of our nation's manufacturing economy are poised for new economic development and growth. Whether it's brownfield redevelopment or investments in public transportation that spur transit-oriented economic development, the innovative programs in this legislation are vital for Ohio," Brown said. "The Livable Communities Act of 2010 will help make our communities places where people want to live and work—places that can attract and retain our home-grown young people.

Lawmakers hope the legislation will improve the coordination between housing, community development, transportation, energy and environmental policies to help create better places to live, work and raise families.

The bill will promote sustainable development and enable communities to cut traffic congestion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and oil consumption, protect farmland and green spaces, revitalize existing Main Streets and urban centers, spur economic development, and create more affordable housing.

According to lawmakers, it will create a new, competitive grant program within the Department of Housing and Urban Development targeted toward cities and metropolitan areas experiencing large-scale property vacancy and abandonment due to long-term employment and population losses. Portions of this legislation were included in the Livable Communities Act of 2010.

Brown and Ryan discussed how communities could utilize funds in the legislation to demolish abandoned properties, find innovative uses for old structures and create green space.

Vacant housing blight slows neighborhood rejuvenation, reduces surrounding property values, and displaces resources from local firefighters and law enforcement. In many cities, vacant properties account for half of the fires and one-third of arson cases.

They were joined by Lavea Brachman, executive director of the Greater Ohio Policy Center, which manages ReBuild Ohio, a statewide vacant property redevelopment coalition.

The Greater Ohio Policy Center recently published a white paper with the Brookings Institution's Metropolitan Policy Program outlining recommendations to reshape and reinvent Ohio's cities that have experienced sustained, long-term population loss, turning them into "shrinking cities" with dramatic implications for their physical transformation.

"This 'shrinking city' phenomenon is pervasive in Ohio. The issue confronting these cities is not whether they will have different physical footprints and more green space than they do now, but how this transformation will happen, so they are ultimately smaller but stronger places to live," said Brachman, a co-author of the paper and also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

"These cities, which have far more vacant land than can be absorbed through traditional redevelopment efforts, require innovative, comprehensive solutions that this legislation will be instrumental in encouraging."

More than 30 Ohio cities have seen double-digit percentage decreases in their population since 1970.