Renovated housing developments bring new residents to Evanston and Covington


This is the fourth installment of a Soapbox series focusing on building redevelopment. Follow writer Caitlin Koenig as she dives into Greater Cincinnati’s past and gives you a look at what older buildings are blossoming into. Part 1 is here, Part 2 is here and Part 3 is here.
 
If you know of a rehabilitated space with a story to tell, contact us at [email protected]

 
Over the years, Cincinnati has experienced disinvestment from urban neighborhoods, leaving many with crumbling, vacant buildings that cast a long shadow — literally and figuratively — on the brave residents who try to stick it out.

But some of those neighborhoods, particularly Over-the-Rhine, are seeing a recent boom in housing options. Projects like The Gantry in Northside, U-Square in Clifton Heights, Uptown Rental complexes in Corryville and Mt. Auburn and The Banks downtown are helping to retain residents as well as attract new ones.

This installment looks at creative residential redevelopment in long-ignored sections of Evanston in Cincinnati and Shotgun Row in Covington.

 
Evanston

Many neighborhoods with well-built, historic houses have seen losses in property values as well as increases in property-related blight and abandonment. Evanston, for example, had more than 200 vacant and blighted properties in 2010, either from foreclosure or abandonment.
 
To combat this, the Hamilton County Landbank partnered with the Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority in 2011 to create Reach Across Cincinnati and Hamilton County (REACH), which targets 14 neighborhoods, including Evanston, for revitalization projects — specifically housing projects.
 
The Landbank was awarded funding through the Moving Ohio Forward Demolition grant program to address the worst blight in Evanston. Properties targeted in Phase I and II of REACH include 1511, 1520, 1522 1525, 1530, 1551 and 1553 Ruth Ave.; 3309 and 3315 Woodburn Ave.; and 3351 Blair Ave.  
 
The Landbank used $565,000 of that grant to demolish the St. Leger apartments, which was a drug hotspot, and in 2014 Model Group built the low-income St. Ambrose housing development on the site. That project was a huge turning point for the neighborhood and helped the Landbank and the Port Authority form relationships with other neighborhood partners.
 
To date, the Landbank has acquired 31 properties in Evanston, many of which were vacant. REACH has completed four home rehabs and has seven more that will be finished this summer. Darin Hall, vice president of real estate development at the Port Authority, says REACH plans to do 11 more houses later this year.
 
“People want to buy houses where they can get a good product and where they think things are happening,” Hall says. “They want to feel safe and be in a convenient location with good schools. Evanston has all of these things in place, and that’s why we started there.”
 
The houses range from 2,500 to 4,000 square feet, and most were built at the turn of the century or in the 1920s. Each house is renovated all the way down to the studs — new wiring, new plumbing, new energy efficient appliances and new granite countertops. REACH puts about $160,000 into each house, and the houses then sell for anywhere from $79,900 to $182,500. Coldwell Banker West Shell is marketing the homes.
 
“Not everyone can afford to live in OTR, and even if they do, some people who are living the millennial lifestyle want to start having families or want more space,” Hall says. “That’s why it’s so important to develop the first- and second-ring neighborhoods to benefit the city. People need more housing options.”
 
REACH also works with local organizations to hire people from the neighborhood whenever possible. In Evanston, REACH worked with LawnLife, which teaches transferable job skills to at-risk youth. The kids do everything from landscaping and trash removal to masonry repair.
 
“When you’re building a community, you want everyone to benefit when dollars come in,” Hall says. “You also want to feel that development is being done with the community, not to the community. When you do a better job of that, there is less vandalism and people feel more connected to the work being done.”
 
According to market research, it takes about 20-30 houses in a small, targeted area to help a community’s overall housing market. Once those houses have been renovated, new businesses and other development projects start cropping up and the market takes care of itself.
 
REACH wants to help catalyze development where the market hasn’t been and is looking at a commercial strategy along Montgomery Road. Future development there will complement its housing efforts and will help move the neighborhood forward.
 
Hall says REACH will work in Walnut Hills next, but the timeframe depends on how quickly the housing market stabilizes in Evanston.
 

Covington

Across the river, the Center for Great Neighborhoods (CGN) is tackling blight in a slightly different way. The organization renovated five houses in the 300 block of Orchard Street — known as Shotgun Row — and is encouraging artists to buy the properties.
 
The project was made possible by a $167,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation as well as funds from the City of Covington HUD HOME and Community Development Block grants and loans from the Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC) and the Hubert Family Foundation. 
 
Sarah Allan of CGN said the organization purchased the houses because they’d make great studios and living spaces for local artists. Zoning laws for the houses allow artists to work and live in them but not operate retail stores.

CGN acquired the five empty houses in 2012 and 2013 and began work on them last summer, adding space for a studio to the one bedroom/one bathroom layout. A sixth house at the end of the street was occupied, owned by a couple for many years, and CGN renovated its facade as part of the project.
 
The six identical houses were built in the late 1800s in the one-story shotgun style. Although five of them had been made functionally and mechanically obsolete from years of decay, they’d received historic designation from the state and couldn’t be torn down.
 
Allan says older people are becoming more interested in aging in place in an urban setting. The one-story, shotgun style houses are appealing, she says, and many of them are scattered around Covington. As such, CGN is considering remodeling more shotgun houses in the future.
 
Each house is appraised at $90,000 and is being sold at market rate.
 

Read more articles by Caitlin Koenig.

Caitlin Koenig is a Cincinnati transplant and 2012 grad of the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. She's the department editor for Soapbox Media and currently lives in Northside with her husband, Andrew, and their three furry children. Follow Caitlin on Twitter at @caite_13.  
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