Vacant property surveys aim to revive neighborhoods


By KATIE SEMINARA

Data show the real distress facing areas of Youngstown.

YOUNGSTOWN — Officials say new surveys identifying vacant city property will help create strategies for more stable neighborhoods, while building upon the Youngstown 2010 plan.

The Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative released the results of its recent vacant-property campaign during a news conference Thursday in Youngstown City Council chambers.

“This is one of the most detailed vacant-property surveys in the United States,” said Tammy Thomas, an MVOC organizer. “The [maps] are a pure snapshot of what our neighborhoods are actually like.”

“We’ll [use] this data to make strategic decisions and to move forward ... bring our communities back,” Thomas said.

The collaborative created the surveys to identify and rate each vacant structure and parcel of land in the city. The surveys were conducted by more than 150 residents and block-watch leaders and revealed specific information detailing which neighborhoods should receive stabilization funds.

The MVOC’s results expand upon the 2010 plan data, showing that the city has a total of 4,566 vacant structures, which is about double the results of 2010. More than 60,000 parcels were surveyed in Youngstown, Thomas said.

“The city has followed a strategic demo plan laid out by Youngstown 2010, which has been reaffirmed by working with the MVOC,” Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams said.

“The success that is changing the image of Youngstown is happening because of the people who are here today,” said Williams in recognizing the community members and city officials at the press conference.

The creation of the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. also will play a role in reviving the city while helping make the MVOC’s plans a reality. The YNDC will provide a “new approach” to related neighborhood stabilization efforts, said Suzanne Fleming, a YNDC board member who introduced the idea of the community development organization.

A board has been crafted of residents and stakeholder group representatives to develop the organization. In late spring or early summer, there will be a nationwide search for an executive director, Fleming said.

The Wean Foundation already has designated $1 million over a two-year period to the YNDC, she said.

“I’m glad to say we’re already on our way to a brighter day in Youngstown,” Fleming said.

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Canfield, D-33rd, attended the press conference to announce that Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher will spend a day in Youngstown next month to experience the positives and negatives in the city and its neighborhoods. Feb. 17 is the tentative date for Fisher’s visit, Schiavoni said.

Fisher’s visit is part of the effort to get Youngstown more Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds from the state, said Schiavoni, noting that “the people of Youngstown felt slighted” when the funds were allocated.

Ohio received $258 million with $141.2 million awarded to 22 cities and counties last September. At that time, it was announced that Youngstown would get $2.7 million from the federal program administered by the state.

When the Ohio Department of Development released the list of areas that would receive portions of the remaining $116.8 million, Youngstown was left out.

“It will be really important to show the blighted areas, but also all the positives,” said Schiavoni of the Fisher visit.

It could take between $20 million and $25 million to properly administer a demolition plan for vacant properties, the mayor said.

“We know we’re not going to get that in one shot,” he added.

“I’m happy that Lt. Gov. Fisher will be in Youngstown so we can show him there are distressed neighborhoods, but there are also strong neighborhoods. This is one of those significant turning points in our history. I’m excited about the prospects.”

The MVOC was launched in 2008 with a goal to improve the quality of life by creating a stable neighborhoods, as well as identifying and developing leaders to organize and build healthy communities. For more information, visit www.mvorganizing.org.

kseminara@vindy.com

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