Akron Beacon Journal. March 28, 2021.

Editorial: Akron must be ambitious to reverse disturbing trends in housing market

Staying put in a home you like, whether as a buyer or renter, is something we all aspire to.

Akron also has aspirations: Retain and attract residents and improve the city’s overall success.

Both goals are mutually dependent and increasingly challenging after the Great Recession, foreclosure crisis and now a pandemic.

There is some good news. Akron appears to be on a better path to stabilizing its housing stock and adding new options. It’s offering tax abatements to entice developers, including the first new single-family housing development in decades which broke ground last week. The $12 million Crossing at Auld Farms off Diagonal Road will offer 51 single-family detached homes in West Akron.

However, reporting in our Home in Akron series this month shows a disturbing trend: Renters are outnumbering homeowners. During the last 15 years, nearly 6,000 rentals were added, mostly through the conversion of single-family homes, with two waves of foreclosures driving that change.

This trend could contribute to further decline in neighborhoods, especially with too many rentals being owned by out-of-town investors.

Home in Akron, produced by the Akron Media Collaborative, also found rents are rapidly rising, economic hardship is forcing more people — especially minorities — to rent while vacant lots where dilapidated homes once stood aren’t being redeveloped due to market prices.

To us, the key challenges — at the risk of oversimplification — are protecting renters from unsafe living conditions and unfair evictions while somehow flipping the Akron housing market to a place where more new developments are financially successful for developers and new homeowners. Nobody will build a $100,000 house that sells for far less. Without a better housing stock, there’s less incentive for landlords to improve properties or keep prices in check. It’s a massive challenge given market realities.

To its credit, Akron has taken some promising steps to attract builders and assist renters. The city in May also will release an update to its 2017 report called Planning to Grow Akron – The City Housing Strategy, James Hardy, Akron deputy mayor for integrated development, recently told members of the Beacon Journal editorial board.

One strategy producing some results is the full 15-year residential tax abatement. It’s been a sore spot for critics of two development sites that could bring hundreds of new homes to a scenic area bordering Cuyahoga Falls. But as Hardy points out, tax abatement is also key to the Crossing at Auld Farms and Alpha Phi Alpha Homes’ plans for 81 units at the former Perkins School site. It’s also fueled more Habitat for Humanity homes.

On the rental side, evictions have long been too high in Akron. Before the pandemic, Akron had the 24th-highest eviction rate in the nation through 2016, and the highest in the state, according to Eviction Lab, a research program at Princeton University.

A federal report found that COVID-related moratoriums issued last year reduced eviction filings, but many eligible renters didn’t benefit because they didn’t understand how to use the program. Reports in the Home in Akron series bear that out.

With so many renters in Akron, the city and its partners need to do a better job of educating renters about their rights.

In that vein, Fair Housing Contact Service formed an Eviction Task Force to raise awareness of the issues in Akron. Possible solutions include forbidding landlords from discriminating against tenants using housing vouchers and educating tenants facing evictions, as well as landlords.

It’s also clear both the city and Summit County need to update ordinances so that landlords can be tracked and held responsible when their buildings prove substandard. Homes being converted to rentals all too often aren’t up to code, with one Middlebury resident reporting “water leaking through the hole in the roof, creatures in between the ceiling and floors.”

Private lenders also need to play a larger role. The city and its partners need to work with the Biden administration on pressuring financial institutions to reach out to underserved neighborhoods.

Yes, Akron is making a focused, multi-faceted effort to improve its housing options. Ultimate success will require even more ambition, big ideas and support from all sectors of the community. Nothing less than the city’s long-term health is at stake.

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Toledo Blade. March 27, 2021.

Editorial: This chance will not come again

Many, many years ago there was a program on television called The Millionaire. A mysterious man who, in turn, worked for an even more mysterious, and unseen man showed up on someone’s doorstep every week and handed that person a check for a million dollars.

The gimmick was to explore the many ways a person could use such an amazing and unexpected gift well, or poorly.

This is the situation with many cities and school districts in America today, thanks to President Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue recovery and stimulus plan.

Cities with structural financing problems, not enough middle class folks living in the city, and a lot of poor folks, like Toledo, have been reeling during the coronavirus pandemic. They faced high unemployment, reduced tax revenue, and no federal aid. Suddenly they have a gift they scarcely could have imagined three months ago.

The city of Toledo will, in a few weeks, receive approximately $188,710,000 in federal money.

And the question is how best to use it. This is a gift that will not come again in our lifetimes. It is the kind of government largesse that has not occurred since the New Deal. So, Toledo and cities like it are getting an opportunity that comes every 100 years, if then.

It is imperative that we not blow it. And Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz says the imperative weighs heavily on him.

Last week he announced step one — a structure for categorizing possible choices and priorities and for public discussion and debate.

The mayor plans to set up a commission to accept and score proposals before Toledo City Council ultimately passes legislation that distributes the money.

Combined with $130 million for Toledo Public Schools and $83 million for Lucas County, our community will receive more than $400 million in federal funding over the next two years. What would you do for greater Toledo, if the checks were in your hands?

Well, no serious person would say it should all be spent on the city’s structural financial problems — maybe none of it should be. The city has a plan for streets now. And the President is going for a national infrastructure rebuild in a separate plan. So, not local infrastructure.

But where and how to spend the gift wisely?

An investment can leave a lasting impact on the city, our schools, and the county.

And an investment should be something that can be leveraged for even longer-term improvement. It should not be something that does the opposite — creating legacy costs — like raises for teachers or more cops.

The mayor has set up a process. So, let’s walk through it together, not prejudging too much.

But, two thoughts:

First, the money will have more impact if it goes to one, two, or three things. If we try to satisfy 50 needs, or good ideas, it will soon be 100. The surest way to make the least of this chance is to treat the grant like a stuffed cookie jar. Handing out a cookie here, a cookie there, a cookie everywhere may satisfy what will surely be the many demands from interests who all want a taste of the sweets, but it will not make the most of this windfall. The process would quickly devolve into a wholly and crassly political game of “I got mine, did you get yours?”

We have to think about what will serve the greater good, of the whole city and region, over a long arc of time. What will change greater Toledo?

We should focus on a cause or program that will be a game changer for the city and region. Early childhood education could be that. The Toledo Public Schools, with help from the city, could fully fund it for five years, or more.

Second, we must invest in people, not bureaucracies. Some cities are putting the bulk of their grant into youth jobs programs — a way to fight crime, reduce poverty, and rebuild an urban middle class. This could also be a game changer.

Either would have to be carefully thought out and designed.

It is not at all clear that local governments know how to intelligently absorb sums of this size.

No one wants to waste this money, or this chance. But it will take hard work and discipline to do it correctly. The mayor is right to feel the weight of this moment. We should all feel it.

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Elyria Chronicle-Telegram. March 23, 2021.

Editorial: Don’t curtail DeWine’s health powers

When dealing with a crisis like the coronavirus, speed matters.

That’s why Ohio law rightly places the power to declare emergencies and issue public health orders in the hands of the executive branch.

It’s authority that the slow-moving Ohio General Assembly would usurp for itself were Senate Bill 22 to become law.

The wrong-headed bill would cripple the capacity of Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, or future governors to respond quickly to a future pandemic, a bioterrorism attack or any number of other problems that crop up in a state of 11.8 million people.

The bill would allow legislators to end any state health orders they didn’t like via a resolution. That’s constitutionally questionable because a resolution, unlike a bill, cannot be vetoed. Moreover, the governor would be barred from implementing similar orders for two months.

The bill also would limit states of emergency to 90 days, although lawmakers could vote to extend them by 60 days.

Proponents of the bill favor legislative oversight of health and emergency orders. It might be warranted if DeWine had abused his authority, but he hasn’t.

On the other hand, too many Republicans — the GOP controls the legislature — have put their political agenda ahead of the health and well-being of Ohioans.

They have pressed DeWine to lift health orders prematurely because they wrongly view his statewide mask mandate and other measures as an affront to individual liberty rather than a collective effort to preserve life.

Indeed, they wouldn’t even agree to wear masks inside the Statehouse to protect themselves and their staff.

Many lawmakers and Statehouse workers contracted the virus, including state Rep. Joe Miller, D-Amherst. And he took mask-wearing seriously.

As uncomfortable as masks are and as inconvenient as capacity limits in stores and restaurants have been, they have saved lives, and continue to do so.

The bill also would make it far more difficult for local health departments to require people to quarantine unless they were diagnosed with a deadly disease or had contact with someone who did. As the governor pointed out, when the coronavirus first made it to Ohio, testing took days.

DeWine rightly planned to veto the bill today, although the possibility of the legislature overriding him was real and frightening.

It passed both chambers with veto-proof majorities. Disappointingly, some of those votes came from state Sen. Nathan Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and state Reps. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and Dick Stein, R-Norwalk.

There is still time for them to change their minds and vote against overriding DeWine’s promised veto, and we urge them to do so for the safety of their constituents.

Surely they know that the virus has not yet been brought under control.

The number of coronavirus cases in Ohio passed the 1 million mark, including almost 18,000 in Lorain County, on Monday. It’s not a stretch to say that those numbers could have been far worse without DeWine’s health orders.

Also of concern was DeWine’s news that new cases in Ohio had “plateaued.” Meanwhile, in neighboring Michigan and West Virginia case counts are climbing once again, Ohio Department of Health Medical Director Bruce Vanderhoff warned.

Now is not the time to ease up. Not when vaccine distribution is accelerating. Even though those age 16 and over will be eligible to get inoculated next week, we’re still a long way from herd immunity and too many people still struggle to get appointments.

DeWine held out the possibility of a compromise that would give legislators “a seat at the table,” but he’s been mum on what authority he’d be willing to give up in such a deal. He said Monday he didn’t want to negotiate in the media.

That’s the wrong approach. These are important issues that affect all Ohioans, who deserve to hear the debate. That wouldn’t be negotiating in the media; it would be being transparent.

Public health officials have been saying for some time now that we’re in a race to get vaccines into arms before the variants spread.

It turns out we’re also in a race to keep legislators from gaining the power to hamper the fight against the pandemic.

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Newark Advocate. March 28, 2021.

Editorial: Promise of more housing shows a plus and minus for Licking County

The news this past week that Newark could see its first new subdivision in 15 years was met with excitement from some and skepticism from others.

The proposal would build 113 homes west of Horns Hill Road, between Wildflower and Randy drives. It is still very early, with an agent saying the earliest they could start building roads is July.

The fact that developers see a need to build more homes in Newark is a good thing. On the surface, it shows that developers see Newark as a desirable place for people to move, willing to spend the estimated $280,000 to locate here.

That may seem like a lot for a home in Newark, but a lack of available housing has sent real estate prices soaring in Licking County. The average sale price was $177,351 in 2016, jumped to $220,791 in 2019, and then $248,442 last year. A decade ago, the average was $137,239.

Such spikes in home values are not sustainable and show a clear need for more homes for people to live in the area.

The last time the city took over streets in a new housing subdivision was 2006 in Park Ridge, off River Road in the west end, and in 2005, in Planters Ridge, off Horns Hill Road, a quarter-mile north of proposed new subdivision.

With any new development comes questions and concerns. What will the project do to traffic in the area? Can the current infrastructure accommodate this? How will this help people who need more affordable housing? What is the impact on school budgets and buildings?

These are legitimate concerns, and some should be addressed in the city’s’ planning process. However, we also can’t complain about a lack of housing in the community and then drive away projects looking to add housing.

Newark does need more affordable housing, including apartments and rentals. That is not in question. But while a new subdivision doesn’t help with that, preventing a new subdivision doesn’t help with it either and actually makes the overall housing problem worse.

Sheetz coming to town

And speaking of new developments, Sheetz announced recently it is coming to 21st Street in Newark as part of the company’s plans to expand into Ohio. The company is known as a deli with quick food options as well as selling gasoline.

Newark and Licking County have always loved new restaurants, and we imagine this will be no different. However, there are legitimate concerns to what a new fuel station destination will do to traffic on an already congested 21st Street.

While the developers have agreed to some modifications - including allowing for a left turn lane eastbound on Moull Street - the development provides an opportunity to look on aggregate how to improve 21st Street traffic. We should take it.

Join together to fight racism

Ohio State University-Newark will host its 12th annual community intercultural relations conference next month. This year’s event is titled “Racial Justice Requires Equity and Me.”

The event promises to “enlighten conference attendees about mores, norms and challenges of community members and residents of diverse backgrounds.” We think such discussions are critical to make Newark and Licking County a better and more welcoming place for all people. This is even more critical as the community grows.

More information on the April 9 conference can be found online at go.osu.edu/interculturalrelations.

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Lorain Morning Journal. March 27, 2021.

Editorial: Rockin’ on the River returning is sign life getting back to normal

A March 24 announcement that the Rockin’ on the River weekly summer concert series will return with 18 shows this year at Black River Landing in downtown Lorain shows that normalcy is nearing during this novel coronavirus pandemic.

Rockin’ on the River co-creator Bob Earley and Lorain Port and Financing Authority Executive Director Tom Brown told dozens of people at the waterfront festival site the good news that day and they revealed the schedule of performers.

A jubilant Earley stated, “We’re going this year, guys. We’re on.”

Yes, it is, and his declaration should bring joy to the thousands of people who attend the concerts, which helped to bring back life to downtown Lorain.

Rockin’ on the River started in 1986 in Cuyahoga Falls.

In 2015, Earley moved the shows to Lorain.

The 2021 season will run May 28 to Sept. 3 with at least seven new headlining bands and nine new opening acts.

Admission will go up to $7 per person from $5, but youths age 12 and younger will get in free.

The pandemic forced restrictions on large public gatherings that caused the cancellation of musical shows in summer 2020, including Rockin’ on the River.

It also hurt some of the nonprofits in Lorain County because they earned money when they assisted Earley with beer sales.

On June 19, 2020, Earley announced to The Morning Journal he was cancelling the season.

After numerous conversations with Lorain County Public Health at that time, the most responsible way with Ohio in uncharted waters because of the uncertainly around COVID-19, was to not take a chance.

Earley and other concert promoters were waiting patiently on guidance from the state on when they could reopen.

However, the promoters became frustrated that festivals and other attractions were allowed to operate with restrictions, including Cedar Point and the Lorain County Fair.

While lauding the work of Lorain County Public Health in working with them in developing a plan, Rockin’ on the River could not wait until the end of June to make a decision on whether to pull the plug on the shows.

With an operation costing more than $20,000 to 25,000 each night, Earley said cancelling was the right thing to do.

Earley had worried about the vendors who set up shop for the concerts and downtown businesses that saw increased traffic from the shows.

He also was concerned about a patron catching COVID-19 at one of his concerts.

So, he was sympathetic, even though he lost a lot of money.

After all, he’s still a businessman.

Earley also is confident that restrictions in place last year likely will end this year because Black River Landing is spacious.

With almost 14.5 acres, he said Black River Landing is larger in size than the Ohio State University football stadium, including the parking lots.

Black River Landing could hold 11,000 people.

Even with guest limits for appropriate social distancing, Black River Landing still could hold 6,000 or more people, with an imaginary boundary that cuts the site in half.

Earley makes it clear that Rockin’ on the River will expect and trust its attendees to respect whatever social distances are needed when bands take the stage.

He acknowledged the pandemic has hurt families that lost loved ones and has hurt the economy.

But, Earley said the entertainment industry has been the hardest hit.

He used the example of teachers who hear about a tornado in the weather forecast, but go to school the next day because that’s what teachers do.

Earley also lauded Lorain County Public Health Commissioner Dave Covell, saying he has been responsive and “a great guiding force” for planning a season of music.

He even consulted Covell for the March 24 announcement.

Earley paid tribute to the late Michael Stanley, the Cleveland rocker who played an early role in popularizing Rockin’ on the River in Lorain.

But, there was one casualty this year, and in 2020, with the announcement that the Lorain International Festival and Bazaar was cancelled for the second year in a row to keep its members, volunteers and the community safe.

On Feb. 17, the Lorain International Association postponed the city’s signature celebration of Lorain’s ethnic and cultural heritage until 2022.

It features a week of events, including a formal breakfast, the princess pageant, a concert with Lorain church choirs and the three-day bazaar, with food and music at the Black River Landing.

In 2022, the association will honor the city’s Mexican heritage as the spotlight nationality, and The Morning Journal as the spotlight industry.

But, as the saying goes, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Earley’s announcement is a sign that life slowly is getting back to normal, which we need.

END