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Case Study

What Works: How an Innovative Anchor Partnership is Transforming one Inner City Neighborhood in Columbus

Written by Amanda Maher

Objective: This case study highlights how an anchor institution’s initial efforts around neighborhood revitalization had a snowball effect that ultimately leveraged hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment. This case study has a particular focus on how the redevelopment and construction of new housing served as the linchpin to a broad-based community effort to stabilize one of Columbus, Ohio’s most distressed inner city communities.

Main Topic: Neighborhood revitalization

Geography: Columbus, Ohio

Major Participants: The Weinland Park Collaborative, Ohio State University, Community Properties of Ohio, City of Columbus, Campus Partners, The Columbus Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, United Way of Central Ohio, Weinland Park Community Civic Association, Godman Guild Association and many others

Background: Weinland Park is a largely residential neighborhood situated between the Ohio State University (OSU) and The Short North neighborhood in Columbus. Located just one mile north of downtown Columbus, Weinland Park was once a working-class community for employees of the nearby machine factories, including the 3M factory and Columbus Coated Fabrics plant. When those industrial sites closed down, jobs left the community and the Weinland Park fell into a decades-long period of disinvestment.

Making matters worse, the city’s notorious Short North Posse infiltrated the Weinland Park neighborhood throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. The multigenerational gang was known for assault, robberies, drug trafficking, racketeering and even murder. Violent crime spiked and led to further disinvestment in the community.

Before long, the Weinland Park poverty rate was approaching 50 percent — far exceeding city, state and national averages. An intervention was necessary; the pleas for community revitalization could not be ignored any longer.

How it Happened: In 1995, OSU realized that the number of students choosing to live in the University District (which includes Weinland Park) had dropped off significantly. Not only was the area considered unsafe, but private property owners had stopped investing in their rental properties. In an effort to attract students back to the University District, OSU established Campus Partners—a nonprofit organization that would take the lead on revitalizing the distressed urban areas around the campus.

Among Campus Partners’ early efforts was creating an alternate restructuring plan for more than 1,300 units of Section 8 housing; roughly 550 of these units were located in Weinland Park. In 2003, in an effort to invest in but preserve the units’ affordability, Campus Partners encouraged the nonprofit Community Properties of Ohio (CPO) to purchase the Broad Street Housing Section 8 portfolio CPO agreed, and the organization spent an estimated $30 million renovating some 270 units of subsidized housing between 2004 and 2009. CPO also took efforts to improve the community through strict lease enforcement, a public safety initiative called Eliminate the Elements, and by offering services to residents to help break the cycle of poverty.

In Weinland Park, Campus Partners also developed a university-sponsored homeownership incentive program, which offered $3,000 in down-payment assistance to OSU employees who bought homes in the University District. Campus Partners purchased and redeveloped a number of abandoned apartment buildings that were hotspots for criminal activity and a source of visible blight on the neighborhood. They also took the lead on the acquisition and demolition of the former Columbus Coated Fabrics site, and spearheaded the site’s environmental remediation in conjunction with the City of Columbus.

Additionally, Campus Partners played a lead role in planning and funding the 2006 Weinland Park Neighborhood Plan, which laid the groundwork for community engagement and investment to come.

These investments had a snowball effect. The JPMorgan Chase Foundation helped fund OSU’s Schoenbaum Family Center, a $9 million early childhood education center that opened in Weinland Park in 2007. JPMorgan Chase has since granted roughly $4.3 million to programs aimed at revitalizing the Weinland Park community. Attracted by JPMorgan’s investment in the area, The Columbus Foundation turned focus to the neighborhood.

All of these efforts culminated in the creation of the Weinland Park Collaborative (WPC) in 2008. WPC is an informal partnership of more than 20 stakeholder groups, including OSU, Campus Partners, CPO, the City of Columbus, The Columbus Foundation, JPMorgan Chase, the United Way of Central Ohio and others. The group organized with the intention of redeveloping the entire Weinland Park area, block by block, through a large-scale strategic plan. The collaborative strategy involves coordinated investments over several years in housing, education, employment, public safety, health, civic engagement of the residents, and evaluation of the success of each component and of the overall strategy.

Results: An estimated $80 million in public and philanthropic investments in housing and infrastructure have been made over the past decade. These initial investments have removed blight and have since attracted an estimated $500 million in private investment. Dozens of new market-rate homes have been constructed and hundreds of others are planned or under construction. Other accomplishments include:

  • Between 2012 and 2016, crime has decreased by nearly 50%.
  • The number of OSU students living in the University District has increased by more than 2,500.
  • Since CPO’s purchase of the Section 8 housing portfolio, annual turnover has decreased from 50% to an estimated 20%.
  • Campus Partners has acquired and renovated 36 vacant and foreclosed properties; half were sold as affordable homeownership opportunities; half were leased as rent-to-own homes.
  • The NRP Group completed construction on 35 new single-family homes on the former Columbus Coated Fabrics site and five scattered-site homes in Weinland Park. The homes are being leased at affordable rents for 15 years and then can be purchased by the renter at below-market price.
  • More than 90 OSU employees have move to Weinland Park through OSU’s homeownership incentive program.
  • At least 42 low-income residents have taken advantage of the Weinland Park Exterior Home Repair Program, which provides home repair grants up to $25,000.
  • The first new market-rate housing development came online in 2015; the first 42 units sold within 12 months at a median price of $305,000.
  • Capital improvements include: construction of the Schoenbaum Family Center, the Weinland Park Elementary School, the Northside Neighborhood Price Center and a police substation.

Remaining Challenges: “There is never a time when the work is finished,” explain local stakeholders. For instance, although Weinland Park is exhibiting increased stability, household income levels are still concentrated in lower income brackets. Homeownership is one opportunity to encourage long-term financial stability, yet only ten percent of Weinland Park residents are homeowners (data that is, admittedly, complicated by the number of students living in the area, the prevalence of subsidized housing, and the number of vacant properties still awaiting redevelopment). There is also a gap in mid-range housing for entry-level buyers to step up into. There’s been an influx of low-income and market-rate rentals, but little development of product in between.

Moreover, as private investment continues, there’s growing concern over whether (and how) the community will retain its civic identity. There has been rapid change over a short period of time, and residents are concerned that social bonds will begin to deteriorate. While it’s no silver bullet solution, WPC has brought on a community outreach coordinator that will assist in building bridges between Weinland Park’s long-term and new residents.

Lessons: A number of lessons can be learned from the ongoing revitalization of Weinland Park.

First and foremost, coordination among all funders, service providers, developers and other stakeholders is critical. Monthly meetings have kept the WPC on track, ensuring that each partner stays in its own lane. Not only does this prevent redundancy, but it helps the collaborative monitor outcomes over time.

Related, the involvement of the public sector is vital. The City of Columbus was able to apply for and implement grant awards for which the private, nonprofit and philanthropic community would have been ineligible. For instance, the City was able to apply for brownfields funding from the EPA to support the cleanup of the Columbus Coated Fabrics site. Similarly, the City has more flexibility in terms of acquiring properties that the collective wanted to see redeveloped.

National funding partners have also been critical to the WPC’s long-term success. JPMorgan Chase and the Annie E. Casey Foundation are among the national funders that provide financial and technical expertise that will allow WPC’s efforts to go on for years.

Finally, the Weinland Park case study shows that housing can be used as a catalyst for revitalization. But housing alone is not the answer; there needs to be strategic thought around the types of housing that are needed to support buyers, renters and existing homeowners alike.

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