Thursday, May 27, 2010

North Fairmount asks for City relief

Citing 30 years of economic development successes, North Fairmount Community Center (NFCC) Co-Director Lois Broerman is asking the City to waive an accumulation of Health Department fees accrued on some of its vacant neighborhood lots.

In a letter to Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, Broerman says that the neighborhood needs relief due to its severe economic situation, brought on by the loss of the Cincinnati Recreation Commission (CRC), Chatfield College and a charter school from both NFCC buildings and the evaporation of donor dollars.

Over the years, NFCC and East Westwood have purchased hundreds of lots as part of a land banking strategy, to be used for future housing and commercial development.

"Our Center began land banking many years ago to keep it out of the 'investors'' hands and have it available for future development," Broerman says. "Over fifty of those vacant lots were donated or sold for very little to local homeowners to enlarge their property. Some planted gardens, some created driveways and one room addition. The plan was to return ownership to the people who lived here, to give them control of the land that abutted their homes."

For many of those years, property taxes remained reasonable and adult and juvenile probation crews kept the vacant lots clean. Problem lots were quickly identified, and no citations or fines were ever received, she says.

"Today, the taxes are high and no probation crews are available," Broerman says. "City operating support has been gone for many years, which limits our financial ability to pay the taxes and no money to pay these fines from the Health Department."

Broerman hopes that the City will consider the millions of dollars of development, jobs, social services, health care, and recreation that the NFCC has provided.

This work includes the rehabilitation of over 100 single-family homes and 46 rental units for low-income people, the rehabilitation of two school buildings, the development of the 44-unit McHenry House senior apartment building, the Hopple Street Neighborhood Health Center, and several private businesses.

Problems remain

Despite these successes, other organizations haven’t been so kind to North Fairmount.

The CRC was reluctant to purchase the former Carll School for use as a recreation center and, after NFCC finally purchased and renovated the building, CRC leased the gym, an office, and a classroom for ten years.

"The police informed us that the crime rate dropped by 50 percent in the first year it was open," Broerman says. "However, the last four years CRC refused to pay any increases in the rent despite soaring utility costs. When we insisted on some well-justified increase in rent they left the building and said our children should go to Millvale about a mile away."

She says that a 14-year-old was killed at Millvale that summer, and violence is common.

But even worse, she says, is the lack of a neighborhood public school.

"North Fairmount Elementary is now Project Succeed," Broerman says. "What was Heinhold School is now a transitional site currently housing Taft Technology. Roll Hill School, also in East Westwood and not even 50 years old, was torn down and I am told the new school is smaller and still in academic emergency. Roosevelt School in South Fairmount was also closed many years ago and now sold."

City departments have also neglected the neighborhood, she says. She cites lots at 1752-1756 Denham Street that continually flood due to a damaged curb on Pulte Street, and the City's use of vacant lots to store equipment and materials.

"On Liddell Street this lasted for over a year," she says. "No permission was ever requested and no payment for services ever rendered."

Changing attitudes

The NFCC's strategy to turn North Fairmount around involves changing the "very negative, inaccurate publicity" that Broerman says the local media disseminates.

"If there is a shooting or any illegal activity they are reporting for this broader area they claim it to be happening in North Fairmount when it is not," she says. "I have been on a campaign for years to convince the media that Fay Apartments, English Woods, and Millvale are separate recognized neighborhoods and not North Fairmount. At the same time when very good things are happening at the Hopple Street Neighborhood Health Center they call it the West End or Millvale, when North Fairmount name is on all the signage outside the building."

Whether or not a change in attitudes will attract developers, Broerman cannot say. She says that the NFCC's foremost goal is to improve the quality of life of the neighborhood's residents.

"We do everything in our power to make this a more livable neighborhood," she says. "But we must have some relief from this current situation."