Covington, the fourth-largest city in Kentucky, is located across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati. It is known for its revitalization of its riverfront and skyline and for its large number of historic properties. In fact, Covington has the largest number of National Register historic districts (16) for a city its size in the State of Kentucky. Young first–time homebuyers seeking historic homes in close proximity to downtown Cincinnati continue to fuel housing sales, while the rental market has remained soft, especially for one–bedroom units. Relative to the rest of the Fourth District, Covington’s economy—interconnected with Greater Cincinnati’s—is stable.
Despite Covington’s stable economy, unemployment rates are currently at their highest levels in recent years, and the city has the second–highest concentration of home vacancies in Kentucky. An increasing number of vacancies are due to bank walkaways and homes that are passed down to children not interested in occupying them. Covington’s Eastside, a neighborhood in decline for a number of years, has many vacant and abandoned buildings. As foreclosures began to surfeit recently, vacancy, abandonment and property deterioration began to spill over to more–established historic neighborhoods, such as Wallace Woods, Peaselburg, and Mutter Gottes.
The structural made–up of Covington poses a significant challenge in stabilizing neighborhoods. Covington’s streets are lined with narrow lots, with zero set–backs, which gives little leeway for building accessible housing units for the elderly. New development is also limited by Covington’s hilly topography and the fact that there are few available lots to build on. Rehab is also an expensive proposition, given the number of historic districts in the city.
City official are working diligently to implement added work activities not originally included with their initial NSP application. The state is requiring that the city meet a 35 percent set–aide for affordable housing units. This activity is expected to create 12 units and cost $1.7 million. In addition to this activity, city officials plan to provide homebuyer assistance to several families and purchase and rehabilitate 20 blighted structures for homeownership.
Private investors continue to scoop up properties before city officials have time to react, making it difficult to target properties for rehabilitation. One promising note is that Covington officials are starting to see better quality rehab work completed as a result of more homebuyers seeking government–sponsored financing such as FHA loans.
The city received NSP funds through the Kentucky Department of Local Governments (DLG). Covington originally planned to use resources to demolish vacant abandoned properties in a spot blight removal effort, and then to assemble larger–sized lots to build housing with amenities to suit contemporary housing markets. The city envisioned building single–story houses with large closets and garages, specifically hoping to attract middle–income residents to live in the city, which officials thought was necessary for future neighborhood stabilization. The DLG, however, rejected Covington’s initial NSP plan and asked the city to use most of its NSP resources on the “hardest hit” neighborhoods, very little on demolition, and a significant amount of the remaining funds on affordable rental housing.
Covington officials were able to negotiate relaxation of the requirement to concentrate resources in specific areas, arguing that this concentration would facilitate depreciation of property values in surrounding neighborhoods.
City of Covington