WOOSTER — Where some see a lack of housing as a problem, Jonathan Millea instead sees an opportunity.

Rather than focus on new construction, the city's development coordinator believes at least some of the city's housing issues can be remedied through a redevelopment of some of Wooster's old housing stock.

And for that, he said, the city has tools to help.

In 2004, Wooster City Council enacted legislation to create a Community Reinvestment Area (CRA), which is generally south of Bowman Street and east of state Route 585. The original legislation was passed at the state level to encourage redevelopment in areas where repair and new construction needed to be encouraged and incentivized.

A CRA tax incentive is available to the owners of one- or two-family homes who complete renovations in excess of $2,500 or who build on an existing lot. Taxes are abated for 10 years on the value of the improvement or 12 years on the value on new construction. It doesn't apply, Millea said, for a single improvement project — like a new roof or new windows — though it would “if you're doing multiple projects, where you're pulling multiple permits.”

And a CRA project would be layered with a loan or grant made available through the Community Housing Impact and Preservation (CHIP) program, which is a partnership of the cities of Wooster and Orrville and Wayne County.

CHIP monies come in four programs — grants for emergency repairs for low-income households, interest-free, partially forgivable loans for home rehabilitation or for the purchase of homes in need of repair or forgivable 10-year loans for landlords who provide a 25 percent match and agree to rent to low- or moderate-income residents.

Both programs help Dan Buchanan complete a significant renovation of the home he owns on Nold Avenue. He bought the home — one of the oldest on the street — on a land contract in 1992. “The whole time I've been here,” he said, “I've tried to do improvements, but it got to be too much.”

He'd already converted the duplex back to a single family home when he heard about the CHIP program from Mindy Cavin, who was then his City Council representative.

After completing the paperwork and waiting, Buchanan was able to secure $34,000 for new roof and windows, the addition of central air and new plumbing and wiring. Near the end of the project, a city inspector who had come to check on the work told Buchanan the projects as a whole mostly likely qualified for a CRA abatement.

So Buchanan went to City Hall. “They were cordial; they were very nice,” and city staff walked him through the process.

With an increased value on his home and no tax increase on the improvements for 10 years, Buchanan said he is giving some serious consideration to buying a neighboring property and using the two programs again.

Millea noted that the CRA program also has been utilized by Habitat for Humanity in Wayne County, which is how homeowner Amber McClain found out about it. A lot on North Buckeye Street was acquired by the nonprofit for a new build. After putting in her sweat equity hours and going through home ownership and budgeting classes, McClain was able to purchase the home.

The mortgage is interest-free and the CRA abatement makes it possible for McClain to spend less on homeownership than she once spent on rent. And she's part of a neighborhood in an older section of Wooster, though near downtown, that has been turning itself around for the last several years.

Millea pointed out that the CRA also has been used for multi-family housing redevelopment, including the $4.3 million rehabilitation of the Palm House Apartments on Rebecca Street in 2013.

“We want to help making investing in your home and your neighborhood easier,” he said. “I think that it's incredibly important to upgrade or rebuild.”

Reporter Tami Mosser can be reached at 330-287-1655 or tmosser@the-daily-record.com.

ABOUT THIS SERIES

In his 2018 State of the City address, Wooster Mayor Bob Breneman expressed his concern about the lack of available housing and available land to building new housing in the city.

Nationwide, the real estate market reflects the consumer confidence in the economy. The same is true in Ohio and across Wayne County — nowhere more than Wooster, where new and expanding businesses are bringing in more workers.

This four-part series looks at the causes behind Wooster’s hot housing market, what problems that presents and what solutions might be found.

Part 1 — The hot local existing housing market.

Part 2 — The challenges of bringing new housing online.

Part 3 — Possible solutions: The rehabilitation of existing housing stock.

Part 4 — The partnerships and programs that could make that rehabilitation possible.