Vacant Lots Developed! Civitas Development Group announces collaborative Cincinnati neighborhood housing initiative with Hamilton County Land Bank

CINCINNATI, OH – Civitas Development Group announced it will break ground in July 2021 on a housing development in Evanston. New single-family homes will be built on 25 vacant lots the developer purchased from the Hamilton County Land Reutilization Corporation (Landbank). According to Civitas Development CEO Darin Hall, a majority of the new homes will be ready for sale by early 2022.

Hall said Civitas Development has partnered with 25 Montgomery Development and chose Evanston because it “represents an outstanding opportunity to drive positive change at scale and help the neighborhood continue to move forward,” he said. “Our plan is to invest in the neighborhood with private capital to build moderately priced, owner-occupied housing enhancing what is already there in Evanston.”

Over the past decade, Evanston leadership has worked with the city of Cincinnati, The Port and nonprofit community development entities to recover from the effects of the Great Recession. They established a 10-year neighborhood plan that prioritizes growth that does not displace current residents and that also supports the vitality of locally owned and neighborhood-serving businesses.

Hall considers Evanston housing as a continuation of the work he led for more than six years at The Port as its Executive Vice President and neighborhood redevelopment executive. He left The Port in 2018 to establish Civitas Development because “I realized the value my company could offer to local governments and catalytic development organizations as an informed private-sector partner to help them reach community goals at scale.” Civitas Development is a real estate focused company that helps equip cities and municipalities with strategies that maximize public sector tools in projects that matter to the community.

Hall moved to Cincinnati in 2012 after a career in investment banking, real estate development and foundation-led community development leadership. “At The Port, we combined public-sector land

banking and development finance tools for focused impact on neighborhoods throughout Hamilton County. In Evanston, The Port acquired and rehabbed more than 30 vacant, blighted properties to stabilize the neighborhood, kick-start private investment and restore market comps during a time when the housing market was stagnant. That set the table perfectly for private investment that advances the community’s plans.”

Civitas Development’s vision is to be a national provider of comprehensive housing and commercial revitalization solutions for cities and public sector land development authorities and community improvement corporations. The company recently was part of a partnership that completed the first phase of a residential development in Columbus, Ohio. Civitas Development managed the development of 20 new homes under a shared equity homeownership model for NCRC Housing Rehab in collaboration with the Central Ohio Community Land Trust.

“We now have 20 new first-time homeowners who will have an asset to pass on to the next generation in  their families,” said Curtiss L. Williams, Sr., president of Central Ohio Community Improvement Corporation and Central Ohio  Community Land Trust.

In Evanston, the Civitas Development properties are primarily located on streets near Evanston’s Recreation Center and Walnut Hills High School. The Landbank owns properties throughout Hamilton County and also develops homes on vacant properties, but more often, it taps private developers, ideally those led by women and / or Black- and Brown-owned enterprises.

“This project is precisely what we had planned when we began our work in Evanston – to catalyze private sector development in this neighborhood, ” said Laura N. Brunner, President and CEO of The Port. “Partnering with Darin and Civitas Development Group on the sale of 25 Landbank properties is a natural continuation of the work Darin led when he was with us at The Port. We’re extremely supportive and excited for the construction of these new single-family homes,” Brunner added.

Charlie Winburn, Interim Hamilton County Treasurer, is board chair of the Landbank. He said he supports Civitas Development’s plan for Evanston. “Civitas Development brings experience and intention to Evanston,” he said. “Twenty-five houses is an important addition to the neighborhood – I would like the Landbank to help developers bring hundreds more throughout the County.”

 Hall said the new homes in Evanston will be two-stories and include 3 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms. Buyers who are mortgage-approved will lease the houses for six months with the money being held in escrow and 100% of it applied to the down payment at closing. “Every dollar paid toward the lease will be applied to the down payment,” Hall said. “This is one method we have created to rebuild communities holistically. We are committed to working with our partners, new and old, to develop solutions to make things better for everyone.”

Hall serves on many boards in Cincinnati and is a member of St. Andrews Episcopal Church, a parish located in Evanston with a rich history of more than 100 years of services and outreach in the African American community.  

Hall said he is eager to see new homes take the place of empty lots.  “Remnants of the foreclosure crisis remind us that we must rebuild equitably, which is possible when partnerships between governments and public intermediaries, neighborhoods and private sector developers unite to build a wide range of housing options that fit the needs of many, ” Hall said.