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Why pay to strip homes in Y’town?

Published: Sun, July 12, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)

By Bertram de Souza

At first glance, the city of Youngstown’s “deconstruction” program makes so much sense you wonder why it wasn’t initiated sooner.

The city hires a company, in this case U.S. Green Building Materials, to strip a vacant house literally brick-by-brick and then to sell the salvaged material. Given the age of many of the homes in Youngstown, there’s gold in the oak flooring, fixtures and even the stone.

Last month, U.S. Green Building deconstructed a 71-year-old house at 945 Brentwood Ave. that had been vacant for a long time. It took the Youngstown company longer to do this job than the one day it takes for traditional demolition because of the salvage and sale aspects.

But a closer look at what the deconstruction of the house on Brentwood Avenue entailed showed that city government paid the company $4,400 — $2,000 more than normal demolition. In addition, U.S. Green got to keep whatever it removed. It obviously intended to sell the material.

Thus the question: Why would the city pay a company to strip a house when there are a whole lot of Youngstown residents who have proven to be quite adept at deconstruction?

Many stories

The Vindicator’s news archives are replete with stories of structures in the city being denuded by individuals who are part of a cottage industry of sorts.

Here’s one item that’s particularly revealing.

On the North Side, a vacant two-story, tan brick house built in 1920 was targeted not once but three times by thieves who obviously knew their way around unoccupied structures.

They made off with a stained glass window that adorned a formal dining room, a six-foot mantel and the side columns, oak doors, brass doorknobs, stained- and leaded-glass windows, chandeliers, sconces and much more.

“These people know what they’re doing,” said the owner of the property.

Just to add a little spice to the story: Police arrested three men after they stopped their car in the city because there were three fireplace mantels tied to the roof.

Then there is the case of the 107-year-old historic mansion with a view of Lake Cohasset that was vandalized and nearly destroyed by fire.

Thieves kicked in a back door and ripped out copper pipes. They also removed vintage d cor, such as French doors and leaded-glass library doors.

Drive through just about any part of the city and you’ll find a house that has been preyed upon by the instant strippers who are so good at what they do, it’s a here today, gone tomorrow proposition.

Woodwork, aluminum siding, copper pipes, furnaces, hot water tanks, you name it they take it.

Thus the question: Why would city government pay $4,000 to a company to deconstruct a house when all it has to do is to put out the word that it is interested in signing up individuals who would be willing to strip houses and other structures — for a price.

Yes, the city could make some money by selling the deconstruction rights to the highest bidder. After all, the strippers get to keep all the stuff they salvage.

This region’s history of stripping isn’t just confined to homes and the once famous burlesque houses. (At one time, one of the more famous girlie joints was owned by two brothers from Canada.)

In the heyday of the Mafia, the Valley boasted some of the best chop shops in the country.

The movie “Gone In 60 Seconds” — it starred Nicolas Cage — while not about the Valley provides an inside look at what went on in those shops.

‘Major’ operation

There was one in particular on the city’s South Side that police called a “major” operation, and they weren’t exaggerating. The front was a car dealership. The investigation began after a driver was cited for a stop sign violation; a check of his license plates showed they were illegal.

Arrests were made.

Chopping up cars and trucks was such a lucrative business it even became a family affair in some instances. Old — or not so old — timers will recall the operation in Farmington Township in which a father and his son were arrested.

The bottom line is that there is a lot of expertise still out there for stripping things down to the bare essentials. All Youngstown city government has to do is tap into this valuable resource — and make some money in the bargain.


1TAXEDOFF(118 comments)posted 6 years, 11 months ago

Some two years ago, a youtube video was posted about this very problem entitled Youngstown strippers and in two years it's had more than 24,000 views.


So two years ago there was truly a problem in Youngstown and it still hasn't been solved and I hope you enjoy the video as much as I did making it.

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2PatrickB52(2 comments)posted 6 years, 11 months ago

Dear Mr. deSouza,
I don't really understand your point of view. If you were doing a hack job on U.S. Green Building Materials, a company doing their part to eliminate urban blight, create jobs and do something positive in the Mahoning Valley then your words are the sort of small minded, misguided thinking that has stunted a great area. If your column was an attempt at humor then you broke the first rule of comedy....your weren't funny.

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3Rokscout(310 comments)posted 6 years, 11 months ago

I know some fighter pilots that will fix Y-town's problems in minutes. Why go to all the trouble of creating a program.

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4Stan(9923 comments)posted 6 years, 11 months ago

I would love to get a demolition contract to level the surplus dilapidated housing ! :)


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5Woody(491 comments)posted 6 years, 11 months ago


Are you kidding me? You don't get the point of the article? Do you work for US Green Building Materials?

I will try to explain this to you. Follow me if you can. I know it might be tough for you.

- The City of Youngstown is not in the best shape financially. High income earners are moving out, mainly because the city has a high income tax. Businesses are moving to Boardman, Austintown, Canfield, etc. (Still with me, I would suggest taking Tylenol for headaches, but I might get in trouble for prescribing a dangerous narcotic).

- If the facts of this piece are correct, the city usually pays about $2,400 to have a house demolished the traditional way. Bulldozed and carted off to the trash heap.

- The City PAYS US Green Building Materials $4,400 to take down a house. (this math problem might be tough for you Patrick) $4,400-2,200= $2,000. i.e. they pay $2,000 more to have US Green Building take down a house then the other method. Not only does US Green Building charge the city more, they also take what hey salvage from the house and sell it on the open market.

-What the article suggests, have outside companies, either one do the job for nothing or bid for the opportunity to be able to take a structure down, as they will make money selling the salvaged material. Hence saving the city, or potentially making the city money. Remember the city is in a tough financial situation.

-At worst the city could have an announced open house. As documented in the article, there is enough reports of people breaking into abandoned houses and savaging the materials that are of value, then pay for the traditional way of having the house torn down. And in the process saving the city, $2,000 per house.

With all these tough concepts Patrick, I expect that it is nap time for you. Have a restful sleep.

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6mollycoddle(2 comments)posted 6 years, 11 months ago

Genius. Yes, by all means, put out the word that the city would allow stripping of vacant houses-for a price. I'm sure that citizens would obediently line up, pay a fee and strip! As usual, Bertram has demonstrated his unique ability to come up with a perfectly idiotic idea.

Seems to me that thieves and other would-be "strippers" would like the idea of stripping a house; paying for it, not so much. And I'm sure that neighbors would be delighted to have the word put out that valuable materials are nearby-wouldn't you be?

As for having professionals come in to raze these places, I realize that it it much cheaper to just demolish a house; what bothers me is what is IN those houses. Lead paint, asbestos-all going into landfill and eventually into our groundwater. Not a good thing. And we are already a dumping ground for the other states' trash; it's only a matter of time before our trash fees go up. No, I don't think so, Bertram. I like my water and my trash fees just the way that they are.

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7westside(47 comments)posted 6 years, 11 months ago

What's with the mafia and chop-shop references?!?!?

Even though the rest of the world has advanced, Bertram seems to be stuck in 1963.


And it's appalling that the vindy editors would allow one of their columnists to applaud criminal activity as an efficient and cost effective means for performing city services. In fact, it's down right negligent.

And maybe Bertram should have read his colleague's article on the topic a little more thoroughly.


He would have read the following:

This project and a North Side house to be taken down next month are tests for the city to determine how much money contractors can make using this process, D’Avignon said.

If selling salvaged material proves to be profitable for contractors, the city would pay the companies less money for future projects, he said.

This process won’t be used often because it “doesn’t make sense in most cases,” he said. That’s because most items of value in many of the houses that the city demolishes have already been stolen.

Deconstruction is “another tool for us,” said Mayor Jay Williams. “Demolition will be the first option. This would be of some help if used appropriately.”

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8PatrickB52(2 comments)posted 6 years, 11 months ago

Thanks for making me understand your point of view...How could I be so stupid...Cheaper is better.Just wondering if you tell your children how proud you are that Youngstown is a cheap place to dump trash and that our landfills have trash from as far away as Canada. When you're done with that perhaps you can explain to your kids how great cheap foreign steel was to Youngstown. Woody, I don't work for U.S. Green Building Materials, however I suspect you work for one of the dozen or so area companies that bulldoze and add to our overflowing landfills.

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9Woody(491 comments)posted 6 years, 11 months ago


I do not work for a competitor. I do not even live in Youngstown anymore. I did not like the way things are heading in the Valley, so I got out. Moved to Pittsburgh, and am doing well. I wish I could have made a home in the Youngstown area, but lets face it, it is a dying area. The people in charge do not want to listen to what will actually make it better, and I am afraid that it is already to late to save.

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10PhilKidd(189 comments)posted 6 years, 11 months ago

Deconstruction is the systematic disassembly of a structure to maximize reuse and recycling of the building materials that compose the structure. Deconstruction is an environmentally responsible and sustainable alternative to traditional demolition. This process enables the reuse of valuable commodities used in building such as lumber, brick, metal, asphalt shingles, and many other materials.

In a shrinking city with 70,000 people and 4,500 vacant structures, deconstruction represents endless possibilities. At present, new methods of deconstruction have been created that are cost-efficient and in some cases profitable. This offers the possibility to create a self sustaining blight removal mechanism for the community.

Furthermore, while many homes are vacant in the City of Youngstown, many thousands more are in need of rehabilitation. Recycled materials from the deconstruction process can be used to repair and rebuild other structures throughout the city. This in turn creates a culture of reuse and recycling the city. Why would we throw 4,500 vacant homes into a landfill, when the materials can be used right here in our own community? Yes, we may need to expand to larger markets and export some of the commodities developed by the process. However, it does not makes sense to throw away many thousands of tons of materials and embodied energy. Things such as asphalt shingles can be turned into pavement, the possibilities are endless.

Deconstruction also offers the possibility to provide job training programs that teach the skills of unbuilding and building. Cities such as Saginaw, Michigan ( http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/19/us/... ) to Buffalo, New York (http://www.buffaloreuse.org/) have been successful in utilizing deconstruction for multiple purposes in the community.

Deconstruction coupled with other neighborhood revitalization strategies such as community greening, housing rehab and community wealth building provide a real opportunity for us to adapt to the shrinking city and region context and increase the quality of life in our community.

Below is a link to Cleveland's program:

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11andersonathan(683 comments)posted 6 years, 11 months ago

LMAO you are talking about a few homes that have done this way. So let me fill you in a bit. The old brass hinges on doors and locks and handles in some houses are worth a lot more than scrap. So are the heating covers and some of the nice cold air covers well are a one of a kind. Now lets talk price. It is up and down. If you find a market a historical society with outlets to other cities a nice raised panel door [exterior] might go well over 500 dollars. Hinges and lock set not included. So you have the scrapers come in the take all the copper cast gas and water lines. They rip the trim off to get to window weights, hot water tank old gas furnace, take a sledge to the cast iron tubs and sinks for scrap. Some will peel the old radiators. In fact I am looking for some on the up and up. So after the metal maybe even the wiring, other head for what is left on trim. Oak Maple even popular both out side and interior, fire place mantles, cove, base, pliers. God forbid there is a nice study or living room with what was very beautiful wood panels on walls. Do not think it is not possible to peel a hard wood floor and if done right you can come up with several square feet [in the hundreds] i know from experience that you can come up with enough to do a whole house including a finished attic with refurbished hardwood flooring. So go out and price that!

i won't go into slate on roofs or tile and if it has round tile caps one round cap from a hip or ridge will pay a labors wage for a couple of hours

The collection of old glass yes their is a market and if anyone has ever seem the wave in glass their is a bigger market.

If it involves a round, oval or eyebrow to can triple the price on trim, anything carved or even production designs well there you go. We could start with simple things old gas lights even electrical fixtures.

I imagine you can find some parts of your house on the north side of Youngstown try Elm Street just past the north side of the park. The last time i saw some one carrying a nice post they were headed that way. Right across the park up a drive he came back went to Petra for beer and went on his way a day later the other one was gone and the porch fell in a few days.

The police and city does not care. The city will not give you permission to strip for free [injury = lawsuit] the price they want for you to buy is usually over the cost of stripping after profit and during the buying time you will loose to much from thieves and yes if you need one piece for anything you are a thief.

So now of all places I have lived I end up here [Youngstown] yes to buy a couple older homes and yes to historical remodel them.

I have had luck in getting permission in other places
to get a few things from a house or two you just have to find a official that has the same feeling and would like
a hardwood floor in his attic.

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12andersonathan(683 comments)posted 6 years, 11 months ago

Part Two

Now paying a company is different, I have been paid to strip before
Doors, all trim, floors and radiators i did very well, it is time consuming and try getting it off with little or no damage pull the nails label and stack it and send it away.

So if this city wants to pay some people, pay me and arrest your thieves, I will hire and turn a profit piece by piece. Or sit back and watch while what could be a beautiful property is removed piece by piece and end up with a striped, vacant, ugly piece of crap that get all grown over then pay some one to clean the yard before a holiday or before a Presidential candidate comes through.

So yes please pay people and don't worry what they make along the way after all why start now. Because some is green and it is cool now.

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13aeparish(669 comments)posted 6 years, 11 months ago

This is the first I've heard of US Green Building Materials -- are they local people? If they aren't local jobs, then these jobs aren't as beneficial as they could be.

I am genuinely frustrated with the blight in Youngstown. It has gotten that way because no one takes care of anything anymore and because no one has respect for property that doesn't belong to them. These are probably the same people that are drug pushers and have made a career out of welfare.

With that said -- it has been increasingly common for people on welfare to work for that money. So, since we are dishing it out anyway in the form of welfare checks, food stamps, and whatever else -- put these people to work (supervised, of course) and have them tear down these vacant homes one by one. It would keep them busy and it will make them actually earn and deserve the compensation they receive from welfare programs. And most importantly, it'll help make Youngstown a better area. When the house is torn down -- plant some trees. Make a park. Do something that can better our environment and our city.

If Youngstown's going to be a dying town, I'd at least rather look at trees than half-destroyed homes.

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14SteveNovotny(6 comments)posted 6 years, 11 months ago

As was already stated in the Vindicator article titled “City makes constructive use of deconstruction program,” published on June 24, 2009, two houses were deconstructed as part of a pilot study to determine the feasibility of deconstruction in Youngstown. U.S. Green Building Materials was paid to completely DECONSTRUCT the homes in question. In doing so, an estimated $10,000 worth of building materials representing over 75%, or 165 tons, of the two structures was diverted from the landfill. Deconstruction of the houses also created 40 times the amount of labor hours (aka: new jobs) that would have been needed using traditional demolition methods. The June 24 article also states that “If selling salvaged material proves to be profitable for contractors, the city would pay the companies less money for future projects.”

It is interesting to note that, like the majority of houses on the city’s demolition list, many of the surface valuables of these two houses had already been stripped from them by vandals. Therefore, it is entirely false to suggest that the City of Youngstown has adopted the practice of paying companies to “strip” homes.

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15SteveNovotny(6 comments)posted 6 years, 11 months ago


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