Solving Akron’s housing problem

Growing Akron through a city-wide residential property tax abatement program

For roughly 80 years, Akron was the center of the global rubber and tire industry. In 1920, it was building half of the world’s tires. By 1982, not a single a passenger tire was built in the city. The impact on the city’s economy, culture and psyche was profound.

Between 1910 and 1920, Akron was the fastest growing city in the nation, expanding from a population of 69,000 in 1910, to 208,000 in 1920. The city hit its peak population in 1960, expanding to 290,000 residents. Since 1960, Akron has lost 31 percent of its population. Today, it is home to approximately 198,000 residents. The loss of households has led to a growing problem with vacant and abandoned properties.

Demographic turning point    

Why does it matter if we keep losing population? Because the size of our population has incredibly important ramifications for our tax base; our employment base; the performance of our schools; the distribution of everyday retail amenities; the cost-effective delivery of public services; and less tangible, but equally important things like our sense of place and our sense of ourselves.

When it comes to housing, Akron is a city of contrasts. Approximately 25 percent of the city’s housing is in great shape, while another 25 percent is extremely distressed. The remaining 50 percent could be characterized as being at a tipping point of sorts — largely solid, older homes in middle class neighborhoods — for now.

Today, we are at a demographic turning point. Our loss of households is a direct result of our using up all of the viable, marketable housing that we had, and our tearing down more housing than we have been able to rebuild.

We currently have an oversupply of housing that people do not want and an undersupply of housing that people do want. Our extremely low housing prices, while an asset in some respects, are a liability in others — it is currently not cost-effective to rehabilitate most homes or to replace them with new ones due to low rents and property values.

Empowering the market

A shrinking cities model of mothballing infrastructure and relocating residents will not serve us well. Instead of putting precious time, energy and money into shrinking, we will build on our significant neighborhood assets and learn how to grow again — from the inside out.

Downtown’s future is as a walkable, mixed-use residential center. In the neighborhoods surrounding it, we have wonderful urban amenities to build upon, but we need a catalyst to jumpstart the housing market.

As such, we are excited to launch a city-wide residential property tax abatement program, which will provide 15-year, 100 percent abatement of property taxes on all new construction and on most rehabilitation and renovation projects. This program will allow the private sector to bridge the existing gap between construction costs and revenues. It will empower the market to create the housing that we need to restore our neighborhoods.

We are Akron and we are strong. We will rebuild, working together.

Jason Segedy is Director of Planning and Urban Development for the City of Akron where he is responsible for overseeing capital budgeting, comprehensive planning, development services and zoning for the City of Akron.