Sunday, May 11, 2003

Great expectations ride on Over-the-Rhine auction bids



By Amy Higgins
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Several former low-income or subsidized apartment buildings in Over-the-Rhine will likely be converted to upper-scale condos or market rate housing, their new owners said.

The buildings were auctioned Saturday as part of the bankruptcy proceeding of Tom Denhart, once Cincinnati's largest low-income landlord when he controlled some 1,600 apartments in Over-the-Rhine and surrounding neighborhoods.

Most of the properties auctioned Saturday are vacant and in desperate need of renovation.

The building Kate Fischer bought at 1531 Pleasant St., for example, is little more than a shell, with first-floor windows boarded up and second-floor windows missing entirely.

But the downtown resident hopes to rehab the building for herself or family members to one day live in.

"That's my goal," said Fischer, who was the top bidder at $4,000.

Many of the bids Saturday were low enough that the bankruptcy court or Denhart himself can still reject them. Denhart will keep property that didn't sell or generate high enough bids, bankruptcy attorney Daniel Warncke said.

Auctioneers were visibly frustrated that bidders were reluctant to run up the bidding on most properties. Most went for $30,000 or under.

A block of 10 buildings, mostly on Republic Street, went for $80,000 to Downtown Property Management. Hari Ramineni, the firm's operational director, said those buildings will be rented to mixed incomes.

"Low income and upscale, we want to blend it in to make it work for the whole neighborhood," Ramineni said. "We want to make improvements for everybody's quality of life."

Not everyone at Saturday's auction had gentrification in mind, however. Sondra Walls of Walls Real Estate Investment added to her portfolio of some 67 properties throughout Cincinnati a Pleasant Street building and plans on keeping rents low, about $250 a month for a one bedroom.

Stephen H. Schubart sees the buildings he bid on renting at even lower rates. Schubart is executive director of Sign of the Cross Housing, which is based on Walnut Street and provides apartments for families at risk of being homeless. The organization, which is supported by donations, provides housing for $180 or less a month while its clients get back on their feet.

Saturday's sales will be presented Monday to the bankruptcy court for approval.

Denhart filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy almost two years ago, claiming that changes in how the federal government reimburses landlords renting to the poor led his various companies to the brink of financial ruin.

He is expected to emerge from bankruptcy in June with a much smaller portfolio of about 510 Over-the-Rhine and surrounding-neighborhood apartments

E-mail ahiggins@enquirer.com




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