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Abundance of vacant buildings concerns Over-the-Rhine leaders

Community council wants city-wide audit
Posted at 6:12 PM, Mar 05, 2020

CINCINNATI — There are nearly 2,000 vacant properties across Cincinnati that the city knows of, and 211 of them are in Over-the-Rhine.

OTR leaders say empty, rundown buildings cause blight and can become dangerous, and they want the city to make sure property owners are fulfilling their obligations.

If ever there was a reminder that vacant buildings can become a safety hazard, look to the old Jackson Brewery, which went up in flames in December and caused $500,000 in damage. Two men were arrested and charged.

“You could be living next to a vacant building and you take great care of your building, but if someone starts a fire, a squatter… that’s dangerous for the whole neighborhood,” said John Wulsin, a member of the OTR Community Council.

That’s why the council is asking the city to get a better handle on the situation and do a complete audit of vacant buildings.

READ the OTR council's letter to the city.

City Councilmember David Mann said he plans to make a motion for an audit next week.

According to city records, OTR already has more vacant properties than any other neighborhood, and Wulsin worries that more are being overlooked.

“We know that there are more properties than are in the database,” he said.

The city requires property owners to register vacant buildings and get a “vacant building maintenance license” if the building isn’t up to code. The license requires the owner to have insurance.

But if the vacant building isn’t reported or cited for a violation, it’s not on the city’s inventory.

That’s what the community council wants to change.

“We’ve reached out to the city to try and work systematically to figure out what’s going on with these vacant properties,” Wulsin said.

Wulsin said information would keep the neighborhood safer and also help with future planning.

“We want to be strategic about making sure that the vacant buildings are improved," Wulsin said.

And Wulsin said it would put pressure on absentee owners to improve the property.

“If an owner is just sitting on it and not doing anything, we should try and get it out of their hands,” Wulsin said.

WCPO 9 News talked to a property owner who is flipping two vacant buildings on Mohawk Avenue. John Blatcheford said the city’s policy on vacant properties is pretty strict.

“I do feel the city does a good job of keeping on people that own vacant buildings,” Blatcheford said.

“We basically get a notice from city that the building has to be vacant building compliant. It’s a vacant building maintenance license. There’s a clear checklist,” he said. “The windows have to be boarded up, no holes in the floors, we have to be able to keep the water out. Essentially, it can be vacant, but it has to be safe.”

Or the owner faces fines, Blatcheford said.

“There are pretty heavy fines. It can be really expensive

“There could be out-of-town (property owners) that maybe don’t care and don’t even pay those fines,” Blatcheford said, “but certainly anyone getting the notices and getting those fines want to react.”

Mann said he doesn't think the actual number of vacant buildings is out of line with the city's count, but he agrees that an audit would determine if there is a problem that needs to be addressed.

“It allows both groups to assess what we have and whether some additional enforcement action is required,” Mann said. “Maybe some buildings are too far gone and can’t be saved. There are all sorts of tools we can experience once we have an accurate list of what is a problem.”