Erie, like many cities of the “North Coast” of Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York, is a weak market community: its income levels are low relative to the rest of its state and it has experienced significant job and population loss in the past decade. In addition, a large proportion of Erie’s population is disabled and elderly, and over 40 percent of the property is tax exempt, leaving city administrators with fewer funds to handle the needs of an increasingly needy population. In addition, much of the housing stock is older and in need of repairs, to the point that rehabbing such homes is often more costly than building new ones.
Because of the deteriorated state of its housing stock, the city felt stymied by NSP’s restrictions on using funds for demolition. Officials included rehab of homes in its NSP plan, despite knowing that this was not the best use of the money. A pernicious neighborhood stabilization challenge for Erie is the existence of out-of-town investors who buy REO properties, convert them into rental properties, and leave them unmaintained. Banks are “walking away” from many properties, not following through on foreclosure actions, and leaving title status in limbo. The resulting blight is scattered in areas across the city, and NSP’s call to target resources in strategic “model block” areas has proven impractical.
Using NSP’s guidelines, Erie’s plan focuses resources in areas especially hard hit by foreclosures. However, for overall neighborhood stabilization, officials would have preferred to use NSP funds in neighborhoods closer to downtown, to build synergy with recent commercial revitalization and residential development. That delays in the state budget process held up Erie’s receipt of NSP funds didn’t make life easier for city officials. Using some creative mixing and matching, officials did find ways to leverage promised NSP monies with Main Street, Elm Street, federal transportation, and Weed and Seed funds to address the dispersion of blight throughout the city, beyond the borders of its NSP priority areas.
The city is working with its community foundation to develop a neighborhood mentoring program that focuses on the service and economic needs of families in targeted areas. By addressing family and neighborhood stability issues in a focused, holistic, and meaningful way, the foundation and the city are using this model to develop a people rather than a place-based approach to community development.
Director, Department of Economic and Community Development