Lakewood Launches Housing Initiative
“The quality of Lakewood’s housing stock is a key factor in its success or failure in the years to come,” state Mayor FitzGerald. “New challenges demand that Lakewood reassess its housing strategy. While Lakewood cannot control national economic downturns or banking policies, it can control its own investment strategies and building code enforcement efforts.”
Mayor’s FitzGerald’s housing initiative takes a two-pronged approach: it encourages investment by homeowners, while streamlining and toughening enforcement measures. It is hoped that this balanced approach will help sustain Lakewood’s housing stock, much of which is now entering its second century.
The following is a summary of the 2008 Lakewood Housing Initiative:
To encourage investment in our neighborhoods, the City will increase funds reserved for acquiring, renovating or raising strategic properties, leverage other government dollars for housing, partner with residents and local financial institutions to reduce the cost of investing capital into our housing stock, and increase the capacity of local non-profits dedicated to improving housing.
Lakewood property owners will be offered the following:
1. The FitzGerald Administration recently negotiated a tentative agreement with First Federal Lakewood, the terms of which include offering home equity loans, home equity lines of credit, and rehabilitation loans for Lakewood properties at rates below that offered in other communities and by other lenders, despite today’s nation-wide credit and liquidity crunch.
- A variety of City housing loans and grants will be made available to improve properties. Call the Lakewood Division of Community Development at 529-HOME to learn more about these programs and others:
- Operation Paintbrush – Free exterior paint a labor to low-income property owners.
- Lead Safe Grant—Grants up to $10,000 for low income residents or properties in low-income areas, including rental properties.
- Various low interest loans—loans available at 3% for repairs, improvements and efficiency enhancements. Rental properties included.
- Doubles Conversion Program- $50,000 loans to convert doubles to single family owner-occupied homes.
- Partnerships for Foreclosure Prevention
With escalating foreclosures, the city must leverage our foreclosure assistance resources. United Way’s 211/First Call for Help provides free counseling for those facing foreclosure. OHFA offers alternative financing for moderate to low income individuals who cannot afford their current mortgages. The Ohio Home Rescue Fund can provide assistance to moderate to low income residents in the form of a deferred second mortgage. The emergency Mortgage Assistance Program provides one-time help for moderate to low income residents who can demonstrate that upon completion they will continue to be able to make payments.
- Acquisition and disposition of strategic properties
The City is also seeking, for the first time, to acquire properties for the purpose of rehabilitation or demolition. Where the market has failed a property, the City will intervene and either demolish or rehabilitate a property. The city recently purchased a notoriously dilapidated property on Riverside Avenue, and quickly sold the property, with a profit going to this same fund. The sale included deed restrictions requiring the purchaser to swiftly abate any building violations and reside in the home within one year. Significant improvements to the property have already been made. CDBG funding and other resources will enable us to expand this effort. Importantly, we have already passed legislation allowing the City to acquire properties faster.
- Historic Preservation Program to protect and improve property values
Set to go into effect in 2009, the City recently passed legislation that will protect the character of historically significant homes and provide another mechanism to attract investment from outside Lakewood.
- Tax abatement for home renovation
The City is considering expanded use of 100% tax abatement on the improved value of homes after they are renovated. The abatement would be limited to Lakewood residents.
- Group purchasing programs for home owners
The City will extend the government and bulk discounts that Lakewood receives for costly products including concrete repair/replacement and trees.
As part of a major enforcement effort, the City of Lakewood is overhauling both its bureaucratic response to building code violations, as well as a wide array of statutory changes regarding repeat offenders, point of sale legislation, and nuisance properties. Underlying all of these enforcement efforts will be a stronger partnership with neighborhood-based organizations.
Proposed changes include:
- Realigning the Building Department
- The building department is currently divided into Commercial and Residential divisions. Employees will be designated to be specifically responsible for rental units, including an increased focus on ensuring that CMHA properties are in compliance with the standards required under the Housing Choice Voucher program.
- Currently, approximately 50% of an inspectors time is spent doing paperwork; greater use of technology will dramatically improve productivity. Automation of the violation process has already begun. Money will be reserved in the capital budget for the purchase of additional technology which will create a more paperless system of code enforcement.
- Improve Inter-Departmental Coordination
- Coordination will be improved between the departments—Building, Fire, Water, Refuse, Public Works, etc—to share information and coordinate our efforts and resources. Our IS department is developing a comprehensive, universal database on all properties in Lakewood, so the information is shared across departments.
- Coordination will extend to include the Courts so that cases brought to the Court are strong.
- Legislative and Policy Changes
- The current violation system includes a number of waiting periods and warning letters, even for repeat offenders. A new policy will be set where a violation is given at the outset, which can be waived when there is compliance before the first administrative hearing. This will dramatically cut the time it takes to enforce our building code.
- The penalties for repeat offenders will be increased, and strictly enforced.
- The city has been slow to use the tool of condemnation in response to dilapidated structures. This proposal includes an expanded use of this proceeding, in order to demolish or force renovation of properties.
- Point of sale inspection. Currently, Lakewood only has point of sale inspection for rental properties that are not owner-occupied. We are proposing that the city institute internal and external point of sale inspections for all rental units, as well as an exterior point of sale inspection for single family homes. City Council is currently evaluating options for point of sale legislation.
- Landlord Responsibility
- The city must expand the prosecution of properties which have become a nuisance. The nuisance ordinances are currently being re-written, but additional actions can be taken through the fire department and other avenues. Repeated service calls to properties must result in financial consequences for owners and tenants.
- Mayor’s Nuisance Property Hearings. As a part of our new nuisance law enforcement, Mayor FitzGerald will hold monthly Nuisance Property Hearings, to help identify potential problem properties, and hear from affected owners and residents, prior to the institution of criminal prosecution.
- This initiative requires more of landlords before they are certified for the year. Currently, each rental property owner must pay an annual certificate of occupancy fee per unit. With a revised fee schedule, the city will contract for tenant screening services, which will include credit and criminal background checks. Landlords will be required to notify the city whenever a new resident occupies a unit. Lakewood residents will be eligible for a reduced fee for these services.
- Broadened Enforcement through Partnerships
- Block clubs are an under-utilized resource when it comes to housing enforcement. Involved neighbors are likely to be the first to be aware of properties which are being neglected. By integrating housing issues into their mission will greatly improve the ability to respond quickly.
- LakewoodAlive has added housing issues to their focus, and will be working with neighborhoods to identify violations and use community input and education to abate these nuisances before turning them over to the City Building Department. CDBG funds were recently allocated to LakewoodAlive specifically for this new program.
This is an ambitious agenda, but the city’s departments are hard at work to implement most, if not all, of these new polices as soon as possible. City council has begun its deliberation of those elements which require their approval, and it is anticipated that the Housing Committee, and eventually the entire City Council, will help fine-tune this housing strategy.
“This strategy is the end result of a collaborative effort by Lakewood citizens working closely with our city departments. We are determined to do everything possible, even in the midst of difficult times, to preserve our housing stock for the next generation of Lakewood residents,” stated Mayor FitzGerald.