Blink and you might miss the grassy expanse between two houses on Pasadena Avenue, but to many in Prairie Township, it represents nothing but possibility.
The now-vacant lot at 110 Pasadena Ave. was once the site of a neglected and blighted house.
Long a drain on township and law-enforcement resources, it was demolished last summer, and the parcel went into the township land bank, Prairie Township Administrator Tracy Hatmaker said.
"It was a thorn in the side of that community and that block for years," Hatmaker said. "When it was torn down, it was a big deal."
Last month, township trustees unanimously approved transferring the plot to Homes on the Hill, a West Side nonprofit organization that promotes affordable housing and provides financial counseling and educational workshops to nearly 1,000 Ohioans annually.
Homes on the Hill also rehabilitates existing homes and builds a handful of new houses each year.
The organization plans to start work this year on a new, single-family home at 110 Pasadena Ave., as it has done on three other parcels from the land bank, according to Stephen Torsell, executive director of Homes on the Hill.
Created in 2008, the township's land bank is exactly what it sounds like: a "bank" where properties that were once tax-delinquent or deemed otherwise uninhabitable are held by the township. The goal is to redevelop the sites so they can once again contribute to the township's tax base or dedicate the land to a "public use" such as a park or greenspace.
Under state law, properties can remain in the land bank for up to 15 years, although the township rarely holds them for more than a few, Hatmaker said.
"The last couple of years, we've taken in five or six (properties) a year," he said. "We haven't had any property in there for over two or three years at this point. Ideally, returning it back to the tax roll is the idea at least 90 percent of the time."
Homes on the Hill built its first house in the township in 2016 on Lennox Avenue. It sold early last year for $129,000, according to the Franklin County Auditor's website.
Two more homes are currently under construction at 276 and 284 Maple Ave. The houses are being built next to one another on what was once an oversized lot held by the township land bank.
"We're already getting calls about them," Torsell said.
The homes, each about 1,200 square feet, match the aesthetics of the neighborhood but come with features that families nowadays expect, such as two-car garages, two bathrooms, energy efficiency and increased insulation, Torsell said.
Potential buyers must meet income limits -- known as the area median income (AMI) -- set for each county on an annual basis by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Buyers are capped at between 80 and 120 percent of AMI, depending on the type of property they are buying, Torsell said.
For a family of four in Franklin County, that means a maximum income of $59,500 (80 percent AMI) or $89,300 (120 percent AMI), according to 2017 guidelines.
Buyers also must qualify for a conventional mortgage and complete a Homes on the Hill course in homeownership that focuses on topics that include budgeting and foreclosure prevention, Torsell said.
They must occupy the house for at least five years before they can sell it without restrictions.
"People want their own place. Home ownership is certainly the best wealth-generation vehicle that people have," Torsell said. "Providing safe and affordable housing is only going to get more important."
Realtor Jody McCague grew up in the area and graduated from Westland High School. She helped a client buy a house on Pasadena Avenue late last year, just steps away from where the once-blighted house sat.
"One of the reasons my buyer chose that house was because he knew the area was on the rise," McCague said. "It's very important because buyers pay attention to (neighboring houses), regardless of where it is. The properties surrounding it are very important."
Projects such as the Prairie Township Community Center and West Broad Street improvements have helped spur interest in the area from potential home buyers, McCague said.
"A few years ago, foreclosures were everywhere," she said. "Now people seem to take more pride in their properties. A lot of the foreclosures were purchased and rehabbed and put back on the market. People are realizing the potential in this area."
Hatmaker said the partnership between the township and Homes on the Hill has been tremendously important to revitalizing the community.
"We're thrilled that are going to build a home on that site," Hatmaker said. "You build community, you increase the quality of life, you attract investment, which helps raise property values, which in turn raises the tax base -- which turns the wheel."
Other properties in the township land bank include two on Evergreen Terrace, one on Woodlawn Avenue and another on Lakefield Drive.
More information about Homes on the Hill and its programs is available online at hoth-cdc.org.