Vacant & abandoned property: How officials are handing Cleveland's "crime magnets"

By Nicholas Hunter

With the spike in crime rates across Cleveland, local officials are trying to figure out why. While there are many possible answers, one problem being tackled is vacant properties.

According to the Cuyahoga County Land Bank, there are over 3,000 vacant homes and nearly 600 vacant apartment buildings in Cleveland.

These vacant properties bring a multitude of problems to their communities, Kim Kimlin, the Chief Operating Officer for the Land Bank, which is a nonprofit corporation, said.

Along with the negative impact these properties have on nearby property values, they serve as a breeding ground for crime.

“They are also magnets for vandalism,” Kimlin said. “People break into them, sometimes they use them for crime. They're unsafe.”

Kimlin also said they can be massive hazards to the community.

“Kids can get in there and get hurt,” Kimlin said. “A lot of them are full of asbestos. If the asbestos has deteriorated it can be scattered around the building, and nobody should be in there.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has even weighed in on this issue, calling vacant properties a “plague” on industrial American cities.

“These vacant and abandoned properties are more than just a symptom of larger economic forces at work in the community,” a statement from HUD on the topic of vacant and abandoned properties, stated. “Their association with crime, increased risk to health and welfare, plunging property values, and escalating municipal costs make them problems in and of themselves, contributing to overall community decline and disinvestment.”

To help address this issue, the city of Cleveland’s department of economic development has established the Vacant Property Initiative, which provides loans to individuals or groups looking to rehab abandoned property.

Meanwhile, the Land Bank buys up blighted properties and finds avenues to fix them up.

In the 10 years it has been in operation, the Land Bank has played a part in over 1,900 property renovations or restoration projects. Through their “Deed-in-Escrow” program, they distribute land in need of rehab and oversee renovation or demolition projects.

“We also work closely with a lot of community development corporations in Cleveland.” Kimlin said. “Sometimes they're interested in properties, so we pass (abandoned property) to them and then they either do the renovations themselves, or they run their own Deed-in-Escrow programs.”

An example of how these properties are used can be found on Fresh Water Cleveland, where they covered the development of a rundown property on Schaefer Ave. back in 2013.

A house with loads of fire damage was sold to a local landlord and, after $10,000 in investments, he turned it into a loft that rented for $500 a month in the heart of Cleveland.

While this particular property was rehabbed years ago, it serves as an example of what these properties can turn into.

It shows the goal of the Land Bank and the city in action: not just to clean up these “crime magnets,” but create spaces that make the city better. But with thousands of these properties in need of rehab, this is an issue many feel is in urgent need of response.

With this being a hot topic in the recent mayoral debate, how candidates plan to address this problem is sure to be on voters’ minds this fall.