The mortgage crisis belted Ohio so hard the state was one of 18 awarded a share of the $7.6 billion federal Hardest Hit Fund. A slower than anticipated recovery means individuals and communities are burdened still with underwater mortgages, foreclosures, declining property values and vacant and abandoned properties.
Ohio’s $570 million relief fund represents much-needed resources and flexibility to offer eligible homeowners assistance, from counseling and limited mortgage payments to loan modification. The fund has assisted more than 10,000 borrowers, but Ohio recorded 70,000 foreclosures last year, indicating that many more homeowners need help.
Still, helping individual borrowers keep their homes, as crucial as it is, is just part of an effective strategy to prevent foreclosures. A plan to demolish vacant and abandoned properties is essential, as they feed a vicious cycle of neighborhood decline, promoting criminal activities, depressing the value of adjacent properties and driving homeowners to leave. An estimated 100,000 vacant and abandoned properties are due for demolition.
But there are few resources to fund a comprehensive strategy for foreclosure prevention. After much negotiation, federal officials seem willing to permit a portion of the remainder of the state’s Hardest Hit fund, about $370 million, to be used for demolition, leaving the decision on the size of the allocation to state officials. It is unfortunate that advocates of demolition and those for mortgage assistance are split over how much to allocate to demolition. It has not helped that U.S. Sen. Rob Portman has proposed that Gov. John Kasich request “as large of an amount as possible to be used for demolition,” language that raises valid concern that the fund could be diverted wholly to demolition, despite the clear need to help borrowers.
In a letter to Kasich, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown proposed a more reasonable compromise: To allot 25 percent of the remaining fund to demolition. That would supplement the $75 million Attorney General Mike DeWine set aside for demolition from the mortgage settlement and a small allocation from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. The state must address two sides of the fallout from the foreclosure crisis. A compromise as Brown suggests would be in Ohio’s best interest.