Sen. Brown Speaks on Need to Address Vacant, Abandoned Properties in Ohio at Senate Hearing

Brown Underscores Need for Bill to Provide Redevelopment Assistance to Communities With Vacant and Abandoned Homes due to Population Loss, High Unemployment

WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) spoke at the U.S. Senate Banking Committee Hearing today entitled "Local Perspectives on the Livable Communities Act." Brown discussed how legislation he has introduced, the Community Regeneration, Sustainability, and Innovation Act, would provide redevelopment assistance to communities with a high concentration of vacant and abandoned homes due to population and job loss. A copy of Brown's testimony can be found below.

Vacant housing blight slows neighborhood rejuvenation, reduces surrounding property values, and displaces resources from local firefighters and law enforcement.  In many cities, vacant properties account for half of the fires and one-third of the arson cases. More than 30 Ohio cities have seen double-digit percentage decreases in their population since 1970. A small sampling of percentage population changes in cities from 1970-2000 follows:

Akron -21%
Cincinnati -27%
Cleveland -36%
Dayton -32%
Euclid -26%
Lorain -12%
Mansfield -15%
Toledo -18%
Youngstown -42%
Zanesville -23%

Brown introduced the Community Regeneration, Sustainability and Innovation Act of 2009 with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Reps. Tim Ryan (D-OH) and Brian Higgins (D-NY). This legislation would create a new, competitive  grant program within the U.S. Department of Housing and  Urban Development (HUD) targeted toward cities and metropolitan areas experiencing large-scale property vacancy and abandonment due to long-term employment and population losses.

A copy of Brown's remarks from today's hearing follows:

Earlier this spring, I was in Columbus, Ohio for the unveiling of a report by a public policy and grassroots organization called Greater Ohio titled Restoring Prosperity: Transforming Ohio's Communities for the Next Economy.

The report outlined a number of critical smart growth and livability ideas that we're already working on: transitioning to a clean energy economy, investing in infrastructure, capitalizing on home-grown talent that we're currently losing to other states.

One of the key suggestions, however, was taking steps to ensure that our communities are places where people want to live and work. 

Across Ohio, communities are making several of these important steps: promoting walkable communities, embarking on regional planning strategies, developing better land use policies to protect our farmland, and initiating neighborhood revitalization projects in Ohio's older industrial cities.

I've been encouraged by the Administration's commitment to promoting economic development and affordable housing options that create greener, more sustainable neighborhoods. And I appreciate the many, many positive provisions in Senator Dodd's bill to create more livable, vibrant communities.

I've heard from many in my state-from mayors of big cities to economic development directors in Appalachia-that look forward to the funding for technical assistance included in the bill as well as the Challenge Grant Program. Whether it's brownfield redevelopment or investments in public transportation that spur transit oriented economic development, the innovative programs in this legislation are vital for my state.  

In Ohio we have a number of cities that have shrunk dramatically over the years.  In 1950, Cleveland had a population of nearly one million. Today it's population is less than half that.

In Youngstown, the population was 170,000 lived in Youngstown proper and now it's shrunk by almost by almost 100,000.

Today, there are numerous cities across the country with thousands of vacant homes, empty neighborhoods, crumbling infrastructure and acres of abandoned properties.

That's why last year, Senator Schumer and I introduced the Community Regeneration, Sustainability, and Innovation Act (CRSI). Our bill would help older cities that have experienced serious population loss-from Buffalo to Birmingham-plan for smaller populations, rethink city planning and revitalization of their older neighborhoods, create landbanks, and even demolish abandoned and vacant properties.

In Youngstown, Mayor Jay Williams has developed a comprehensive planning effort called Youngstown 2010 to create a smaller, greener, and cleaner city. This plan has received national accolades from planning groups for its vision for reviving the city. And the need is great-a recent vacant properties count by community members found that 43.7% of land parcels in the city are experiencing vacancy of some form. 

I was in Youngstown last week and met with members of the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, including Pastor Michael Harrison (he wants to work this in somehow) who have been tireless promoters of their city-working to reduce the number of vacant properties and improve the quality of life in the Mahoning Valley. They know that empty and abandoned neighborhoods are a drain on city resources and a haven for crime. They know that Youngstown can once again attract a new population and new jobs to compete with cities like Portland, Salt Lake City, or Atlanta. And they also know that the older industrial cities that served as the backbone of our nation's manufacturing economy are poised for new economic development and growth.

We should ensure that older so-called "shrinking cities" like Gary, Indiana, Detroit, and Cleveland have a place in this bill for the innovative programs needed to address their unique set of challenges.

The inclusion of policies to address the particular needs of these urban areas must be done in conjunction with efforts to encourage smarter, more livable communities. Done right, these programs can help reverse the painful decline experienced in so many of these great cities.

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