Springfield to buy lots for $150K

The city of Springfield will spend $150,000 to invigorate a long-lagging development on Clifton Avenue.

The city has entered into an agreement with the Neighborhood Housing Partnership of Greater Springfield to purchase the 14 remaining, vacant lots of the Clifton Court development, which includes a handful of houses built across from the former South High School.

NHP will continue to market and develop those properties over the next 18 months. The city will use its federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant and money generated from home sales from that program to pay for the land.

“This is a way to make sure we can keep funding in that project so it doesn’t stall any further,” said Shannon Meadows, the city’s community development director.

The project began about five years ago as a partnership between NHP and the Building Industry Association with the goal of providing new, quality housing in the city, but it stalled due to the housing market crash.

NHP recently opened its $1.8 million senior complex, City View Apartments on nearby Drexel Avenue, paid for through U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development money administered by the city, including $900,00 from the second phase of the NSP grant.

The senior apartments breathed new life into the Clifton Court project, Meadows said.

“Essentially, what we want to do is utilize one source of federal funds to assist in the ongoing development of Clifton Court,” she said.

City commissioners unanimously approved the purchase at Tuesday’s meeting.

“In these trying times, it’s a source of resources and cash flow for us,” said Tina Koumoutsos, Neighborhood Housing Partnership’s executive director. “It’s kind of a win-win.”

A handful of homes were built in the development and sold in 2009, but after the housing market crashed and the economy slumped, the rest of the block remains vacant. The BIA later pulled out of the project, which was believed to be the first subdivision built in the inner city in 50 years.

The plan for the development was to build on speculation, but NHP later shifted its focus to building only with a buyer lined up.

“We’re not developing on speculation,” Koumoutsos said. “We’ll still work with interested buyers one-by-one, but until we kind of see a reversal of housing values going back up again, we’ll be pretty conservative in our development approach.”

Allen Rucker, who purchased one of the homes on Clifton Avenue in 2009, said he’s not surprised the land hasn’t been developed due to the economy, but hopes to see some progress in the future.

The opening of City View Apartments has been a welcome addition, Rucker said.

“It’s really been nice,” Rucker said.

Recent initiatives in the neighborhood, Koumoutsos said, such as the Promise Neighborhood program and the planned Global Impact STEM academy at South High, could attract prospective buyers.

“I would hope we might even find teachers who are interested in living close to school and not having the commute times and transportation costs,” Koumoutsos said. “There’s some great opportunities for synergies there as we get closer to launching the STEM school. It’s exciting.”

NHP isn’t concerned with the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission’s recent questions about the plans to renovate South High for the new STEM school.

“Major initiatives like (the STEM academy) come together and there can be several iterations before a final project is really defined and launches,” Koumoutsos said. “We’ve held that land with a vacant South High School site. It’s no worse than it was, and we hope it will be much better.”

There are no plans for what could be built on the lots, and she said it could be anything from condominiums to affordable rentals to single-family homes. The initial plan was to build 18 homes on the block.

“We don’t really have the drawing board out right now,” Koumoutsos said. “We’re going to see how things develop.”

NHP will maintain its leadership role, Meadows said, which doesn’t make the deal any riskier than usual.

“On the surface, really nothing changes,” Meadows said. “It’s a way to infuse additional NSP funding into an NHP project so we can continue to move forward.”

The deal also won’t affect NHP’s ability to help qualified home buyers with purchases. Previous buyers in the development received $25,000 in incentives and 15-year tax abatements, which are still available.

In the past 10 years, nearly $65 million in public and private money has been spent reshaping the neighborhood around South High through projects like the new Lincoln and Hayward school buildings, the Hope VI public housing near Lincoln Park Circle, the expanded Rocking Horse Center, and the Neighborhood Stabilization Project building and renovating homes and razing blighted ones.

The city’s infusion of money came at a good time, Koumoutsos said.

“We really appreciate the opportunity and the cash flow at a time when everybody is concerned about the debt ceiling and how that’s going to play out with domestic programs,” she said.

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