Lending money, not home repair and resale, is the bank's focus, a vice president said.
By ROGER G. SMITH
CITY HALL REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- The "Broken Window Theory" is the general idea that one dilapidated home often leads to many more.
Creeping blight is a reality in many city neighborhoods, and that's the fear these days in one upper North Side neighborhood. A vacant, burned out house at Madera and Guadalupe avenues interrupts a neighborhood otherwise filled with occupied, well-kept homes.
Those who live near the property, however, are acting before problems spread.
Pressure on the bank
Residents are pushing the bank that owns the house at 498 Madera, and city government in the alternative, to make the neighborhood whole again.
Leon Stennis, who lives around the block on Carlotta Drive, is organizing a rally for noon Monday in front of the Madera house. A neighborhood meeting is set for 6 p.m. at 541 Carlotta to talk about the situation.
The two-story red brick house became vacant in July, and a fire gutted the second floor shortly after. Scorch marks remain on the window frames.
Stennis has been in touch with Warren-based First Place Bank about fixing the property. Earlier this month, however, the bank told Stennis it was going to sell the house without fixing it.
So Stennis gathered 150 signatures from residents on Madera, Carlotta, Guadalupe and Tod Lane asking city leaders for help.
Neighbors fear the burned out house will linger on the market. If it does sell unimproved, they worry the new owner will pay little for the damaged house. That leaves little incentive to restore the property and it could deteriorate further, Stennis said, as happens too often elsewhere in the city.
In the meantime, some windows are boarded up, but not all of them. Neighbors are concerned the house will be damaged by the weather, vandals or become an easy outlet for drug dealing.
They want the bank to either repair the house so it will sell or eliminate it.
"If they don't want to fix it up, tear it down. Don't hurt the neighborhood," Stennis said. "Everybody's annoyed and irritated. It's just an eyesore in the neighborhood."
The bank is disappointed and troubled by the situation, too.
Al Blank, senior vice president of retail lending at First Place Bank, said he is disappointed that neighbors assume the next owner won't fix the house. That scenario isn't likely, he said.
Anyway, there are no guarantees the next owner will be a good neighbor even if the bank fixes the house, he said.
He also is troubled that there is a perception that the bank doesn't care. The bank is a major mortgage lender in the area and has a stake in the house and the neighborhood, too, Blank said.
First Place plans to sell the house without fixing it up because the bank's focus is lending money, not home repair and resale, he said.
"I don't know that we're the right people to fix houses and sell them," he said.
The bank, however, would be happy to sell the house for a fair price and then finance the sale and the repair costs, Blank said.
Stennis pointed out that across the street from the Madera property is another house for sale -- by Coldwell Banker First Place Realty.
Letter of the law
Meanwhile, neighbors want the city to press the bank on all health, safety and environmental regulations until the property is brought back to shape.
"We want to make sure the bank does everything it should do regarding the law," Stennis.