Candidates blamed landlords, tenants and the courts for housing blight.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Housing issues were a major focus of the 4th and 5th ward city council candidates in a forum for West Side citizens.
"We have a good, solid 4th Ward here, but if you go down to the lower end, you see it's starting to become filled with rental properties and a lot of really bad people," said Ronald J. Warga, a Democratic candidate in the May 6 primary, who said he used to own rental property.
"In order to regulate the landlords, you don't charge them a $10 fee; you charge them a $100 fee. You're going to generate some income. Now we can go out and license them," and inspect their properties before they are rented, he told those attending West Side Coalition's event Tuesday at Shrine of Our Lady, Comforter of the Afflicted.
"Landlords have to be made more accountable. If you're going to keep the neighborhood safe, you can't only look at bad tenants; you've got to look at bad landlords. There have to be periodic checks through the city inspection," said Carol Rimedio-Righetti, another Democratic candidate.
Landlords should be fined if their properties aren't up to code to avoid having a neighborhood deteriorate, she added.
Advice to landlords
"Rather than renting out a house and having them send the rent to you, go pick up your rent and check out that house while you're there. Have a checklist. Check all this stuff," Richard J. Boyle, another Democratic candidate, advised landlords.
As for the streets, Boyle said laid-off sheriff's deputies need to be reinstated and non-violent prisoners should cut grass for elderly and disabled people, shovel snow and clean litter from the streets.
Democratic candidate in the 5th Ward race, Cynthia L. McWilson said, "There needs to be stricter housing code enforcement. We need to have inspectors that are going to go out and do their jobs."
A 30-year-old city housing ordinance allows fines of $100 or more and six months in jail for violators, she said. "The homeowners are the ones that need to be addressed with this issue. You have these people that live in the suburbs or out of town, and they just don't care," she added.
"You don't know how many homes I've tried to get demolished. They go to the courts. The courts slap them with a $20 fine. Here we go again. The problem isn't our workers or inspectors; the problem is our court system," said Michael R. Rapovy, the incumbent 5th Ward Democratic councilman. Rapovy also said housing code enforcement has to be tempered with compassion for elderly people who can't perform or afford major repairs and maintenance.
"The laws are there. The courts are failing you, and we only have one city inspector [empowered to write housing citations], who's on sick leave right now," said Nancy Hazel, another Democratic candidate. "I'd sit down with the municipal judges and ask: Is there a problem? Because from their view, there may not be. Somebody better be gutsy enough to say, 'I'm tired of this, and I'm not going to take it anymore,'" she said.
Beverly Fortune represented her husband, James E. Fortune Sr., who is challenging incumbent John R. Swierz for the council president's post.
Fortune said her husband, who has served 22 years on council, has a good working relationship with his fellow council members. Council needs a "pro-active" president to help resolve the city's budget deficit, fight crime, develop a comprehensive approach to economic development, and build the convocation center, Beverly Fortune said.
Swierz was a city firefighter for 25 years, and was appointed to his post almost a year ago. He cited his previous 61/2 years as 7th ward councilman and said he brings to his job "a great wealth of information about how the legislative process works."
He said he is making council meetings more citizen-friendly and encourages residents to come forward to review and discuss legislation and ask questions after council meetings.
Other speakers included unopposed Republican candidates Tracey S. Monroe-Winbush, council president; Sandra L. Holowatuk, a 4th Ward write-in; and Tyrone Peakes, 5th Ward.