Akron's Updated Housing Strategy to Focus on 'Middle Neighborhoods'
In 2017, Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan announced "Planning to Grow," an initiative to bring the city's population to 250,000 people — adding 50,000 residents — by the year 2050. The plan provided property tax abatements, which spurred new housing construction and home rehab projects in parts of the city.
Now, he’s announced phase two, which will encourage investment into what city officials term “middle neighborhoods”: places like Goodyear Heights, North Hill, and Kenmore.
What is the middle?
Jason Powers runs a similar program for the city of Cleveland in places like Old Brooklyn and has advised Akron on its plan.
“The number-one rule of middle neighborhood work is, you’ve got to build from strength. City-wide, your strengths are going to be the neighborhoods that are seeing investment already. So where is that cut-off where you become a middle neighborhood, and then where is the strength within that cohort?” Powers said.
Akron Planning Director Jason Segedy says the middle neighborhoods are important for the city’s growth.
“These are typically neighborhoods where vacant lots, or vacant houses, aren't the problem. What we're really trying to accomplish is more assistance for homeowners or potential homebuyers for rehabilitation of some of these older homes," Segedy said.
"I grew up in one of our middle neighborhoods in the West Akron area, right by Buchtel High School. There’s some beautiful homes there. Most of the homes were built in the late 1920s, the 1930s, and the early 1940s. The neighborhood has really good bones. Often, these neighborhoods are by what we call our ‘Great Streets Districts.’ The homes are older and some are very well cared-for; others are falling into decline.”
Funding a plan to grow
"Planning to Grow 2.0” would set aside about $20 million in American Rescue Act funds for housing. Deputy Mayor James Hardy says they can build on existing housing momentum in the middle neighborhoods. But they will also work to stabilize stagnant markets, such as in Summit Lake and Middlebury.
“We would love to lift every neighborhood up all at once. But the fact is, in some of these areas we’re starting from scratch. We don’t necessarily know what those interventions are going to look like or need to be. We don’t have all the partners in place,” he said.
Hardy adds that in the next phase, they plan to provide better code enforcement, make permitting easier, and create a landlord-tenant council. There will also be a renewed focus on working with the Summit County Land Bank to acquire vacant properties. And by next year, they plan to have a comprehensive strategy to combat homelessness.
A look back at the closing of historic Goodyear Heights United Methodist Church in 2017: