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Why some old Cincinnati buildings are preserved and others collapse

Hamilton County Landbank saves best to last
Posted at 7:53 PM, May 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-17 20:30:46-04

CINCINNATI — Since 2012, the Hamilton County Landbank has spent $2.6 million to stabilize 23 historic structures. It’s money well spent, said Jessica Powell, landbank vice president.

“I think with just having a city with such unique and strong and old housing stock, it’s important to preserve it. It preserves the integrity of our neighborhoods … just their overall character and feel,” Powell said.

Other old buildings – some built in the late 1800s - are neglected and become too dilapidated to fix.

Some become dangerous and partially collapse like the 19th-century building at 463 West McMicken in the West End.

Luckily, no one was hurt when part of the roof crashed into the street Thursday night. The City of Cincinnati had already declared that property “dangerous and unsafe” and ordered it to be kept vacant.

In fact, five of the six buildings in that area are vacant by order of the city because they’re in such poor shape.

Powell says it's costly to restore old buildings. The ones that are neglected often end up vacant and falling apart.

“The challenges with these properties is they are expensive to bring back into some kind of code compliance. They take more money than they would ever sell for, at least right now in this market,” Powell said.

Annabelle Johnson, who lives three doors down from 463 West McMicken, has lived on that street for 40 years. The four buildings to her west are all vacant.

Johnson remembers a better time when those buildings were home to families.

“It was nice, peaceful and quiet. Everybody was neighborly with one another. We laughed and talked,” Johnson said.

She says she would love to see families move back in.

“Oh yes, I would. Very much so,” Johnson said. “It’s needed. It’s needed. We need buildings, you know?”

But several days ago, Johnson noticed bricks falling off the building at 463.

“About three or four days before it got this bad, some bricks had started falling down,” she said. “Last night, everything tumbled down up there, it seems like. I didn’t see it. I did not hear it. But they tell me the fire wagons was on the whole block here.”

Johnson said that old building has been vacant for at least 15 years.

“Generally, it’s no surprise that vacant, blighted properties impact quality of life of surrounding property owners and residents who live nearby,” Powell said. “You look at this, I don’t think anybody wants to live next door to this.”

Meanwhile, the landbank is working to get another West End building on Freeman Avenue safe enough to sell to a private developer who would make the building habitable again.

A lot of the funding for the landbank’s program comes from the City of Cincinnati, a non-profit called IFF and the Cincinnati Development Fund.