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“Our vision is to chip away at some of the issues with vacant and abandoned properties and declining real estate values that continue to be a significant problem in the West End,” she said.
The strategy also calls for working aggressively to clear the property’s title to then buy “as many contiguous or clustered properties as possible on a particular block” that will be strategically sold and will facilitate development “in keeping with the character of the existing neighborhood.”
OneWest has already met with city officials and staff at the University of Louisville’s Department of Urban Affairs to begin mapping priority locations for a purchasing plan.
While Fischer’s office and OneWest are touting the idea as a strategy to stimulate redevelopment and raise home values, the public-private partnership isn’t without its skeptics.
Councilwoman Jessica Green, whose district includes parts of western Louisville, said the Fischer administration is overlooking grassroots leaders and organizations such as the Louisville Urban League, Louisville Central Community Centers Inc., and the Jesus And A Job program, which she said have a capability to undertake this and other causes.
“There are organizations in west Louisville that are for us and by us that have been on the ground in our community doing the heavy lifting for years,” said Green, D-1st District.
Green’s office is reaching out to other groups in hopes they will submit alternative plans for the $250,000. She said unlike longstanding groups such as The Healing Place or Volunteers of America, which are also slated to receive part of the $10 million surplus under the mayor’s plan, OneWest is a relatively new group that doesn’t have a proven track record among residents.
OneWest was born out of the Leadership Louisville Center’s 2014 Bingham Fellows class. Its 26-member board of directors include representatives of banks, corporations and area foundations as well as 10 different western Louisville residents and business owners.
“In comparison, it’s apples to asparagus,” she said. “I’m not pleased at all.”
Recktenwald said the idea to use some of the surplus for buying the liens was broached by the mayor’s office, which has ties to OneWest. Fischer’s economic development chief, Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, sits on the group’s board and the group’s former director, Jean Porter, now works in the administration’s communications office.
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Jeana Dunlap, director of the city’s vacant and abandoned property’s administration, said there has never been an effort to stop the tax lien trade in Louisville involving the city, community and private investors. Eliminating those outsiders from the equation and having local leaders directly overseeing the process is key to lowering the number of deserted properties, she said.
“Four years back, people were talking about how do we get the predatory purchasers out of the way and find better ways to have community collaboration,” Dunlap said. “Just because OneWest has never done it, that’s not a reason they shouldn’t be doing it.”
Haven Harrington, who is president of the Russell neighborhood association and sits on OneWest’s board, said he agrees that other West End groups should be funded better but he supports the plan aimed at stabilizing neighborhoods by keeping property owners in their homes. In terms of buying up other properties, there needs to be further discussion on what that plan would look like for current residents, he said.
“I’m guardedly optimistic that we can make positive change with those other properties,” he said. “… There are other organizations that need some of that funding as well, but I haven’t heard other West End groups where this is their focus.”
In Metro Council District 5, which encompasses most of western Louisville, there are about 1,300 vacant and abandoned properties, according to a city database. The data show Green’s district, which stretches down the southwestern spine of the Ohio River, has more than 620 unoccupied structures.
Reporter Phillip M. Bailey can be reached at (502) 582-4475 or email@example.com