the Beacon Journal editorial board
Mayor Dan Horrigan, Jason Segedy, the planning director, and others at City Hall talk about an evidence-based strategy for improving the housing market. A week ago, the Reinvestment Fund dumped just about all the data about the city’s housing landscape that a planner could imagine. The Philadelphia firm divided the city into 200 census blocks, drilling to see what is there, providing city officials and others with information upon which to base decisions as Akron seeks to meet the mayor’s top priority: add to its population.
The mayor has a most ambitious goal, boosting the population from the current 197,000 or so to 250,000 by 2050. Frankly, Akron hasn’t done so well with such big objectives. (Read, for instance: University Park Alliance.) Better, again, to keep the focus on something manageable, say, halting the steady decline or restoring the city’s population to 200,000.
Even such a seemingly modest goal presents a steep challenge. What is encouraging is that the Reinvestment Fund has delivered substantial evidence, part of the mayor wanting to do things right in laying a foundation for success in this administration and those that follow.
The work of the Reinvestment Fund is part of a whole. The city gathered its own information, and it tapped the Greater Ohio Policy Center and DiSalvo Development Advisors to generate their own examination of the way forward for Akron. If the Reinvestment Fund learned that 81 percent of those working in Akron with incomes of $40,000 or more live outside the city, the policy center and DiSalvo identified complementary numbers — and offered a range of steps for encouraging more of those employees to set up residence closer to their jobs, or in the city.
The steps include converting office space to residences in downtown, seizing opportunities to add mixed-use space, working with lenders and foundations to develop innovative mortgage products (loans based on the value after repairs) and encouraging the use of community development corporations, an area where Akron is lacking compared to other cities. The policy center and DiSalvo emphasized that these and other steps have shown success in other cities similar to Akron.
The policy center and DiSalvo cite the benefit of tax abatement for new housing construction and repair in Cleveland. Already the Horrigan team has begun to move ahead on this front.
This gets to something else valuable in the policy center and DiSalvo analysis — listening to local developers, those who must be on board to enhance the housing market. Among the top recommendations of developers is such tax abatement, which, they reinforce, is not the sole answer.
Developers also want to see an updating of the zoning code (which the mayor has proposed) and a dedicated liaison from the city to developers. The latter echoes the mayor’s pledge about improving customer service at City Hall. This hardly exhausts the list of ideas from the policy center, DiSalvo and developers. Plain is the steady work required on multiple fronts, involving multiple partners, and the importance of clarity, the evidence and the decision-making building a narrative about what Akron wants to achieve and the support and commitment necessary to get there.