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Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority extending 'Reach' to second neighborhood since 2014

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Posted at 5:03 PM, Oct 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-10-13 17:03:22-04

CINCINNATI -- The Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority is expanding a program that aims to bring vacant and blighted properties back online.

REACH, or Rehab Across Cincinnati and Hamilton County, will officially launch in its second neighborhood, Walnut Hills, next month, officials said Thursday. The initiative started in Evanston in late 2014, and officials are now targeting the Over-the-Rhine neighbor with a very similar goal: rehab 30 properties there -- including 10 in 2016.

The Port Authority will list for sale the first properties in Walnut Hills in coming weeks. Three single-family homes -- a total of six will be new, modular structures -- have been ordered and will be delivered in early November. They'll be located along Morgan Street, a few blocks south of East McMillian in the neighborhood's southwest quadrant. The lots have been empty since the port acquired, remediated and demolished a vacant commercial building, officials said.

Darin Hall, the port's executive vice president, said the modular homes, sized at roughly 1,600 square feet, will be priced in the high $180,000s or low $190,000s.

"We had to get over the initial perception of modular being less than stellar housing," he said. Gail Paul, port spokesperson, said the first three will be listed this year. Three existing homes -- also on Morgan Street and being rehabbed -- will be available for pre-sale in 2017. A pre-sale schedule is expected at a later date.

"The goal with REACH is to start housing markets that wouldn't start otherwise," Hall told WCPO. "(Morgan) Street is small enough where, if we (rehab) nine houses on that street…that changes everything.

"We've been careful to listen to the concerns of the constituents. These are going to be marketed as a continuation of the Walnut Hills Five Points Alley experience, and all the cool things that are going on there," he added. "Our brokers are excited about it."

Walnut Hills, like many urban neighborhoods, has faced a number of challenges over the years. Its business district, once considered Cincinnati's second downtown, was largely vacated; its Census population having declined by 68 percent since 1960. The 2010 count put its population at less than 6,500. Per a recently prepared housing report, Walnut Hills been also plagued by high vacancy rates (25 percent), low homeownership (16 percent), poverty, an aging housing stock and more.

But Port Presidents and CEO said Laura Brunner said the neighborhood "is on a roll." The Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation, a nonprofit community development corporation, spearheaded its recent designation as a Place Matters neighborhood, which allows for grant funds to support arts activities. The port has also had a hand in several redevelopments, including Trevarren Flats, the transformation of three historic buildings on East McMillan; Paramount, a mixed-use project; and Windsor Flats, the conversion of a former Cincinnati Public School, originally built in 1888, into apartments.

"There really is a lot of energy happening," Hall said. "It is going to be fantastic."

For the past several years, the Port Authority, in cooperation with the Hamilton County Landbank, has been working with neighborhoods in Cincinnati to acquire distressed properties. Per the port's strategic plan, leaders hope to take REACH to 10 neighborhoods by 2022, Hall said.

As far as which community they'll target next, an announcement on that front could also come in early 2017, he said.