If homes cost $300K, not $30K, would residency be desired?

By Todd Franko

I know very little about libraries.

I know just a little more about Youngstown’s West Side.

But what I know of the two united for a “go figure” when the West Side library was targeted for closure by the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County.

It may make complete sense from a library standpoint given the proximity of nearby libraries. But from a city quality of life standpoint, closure is a curveball.

The city’s West Side is essentially the largest area that’s holding on in terms of minimal vacant lots, abandoned homes and foreclosed properties.

It’s more of a struggle holding on in the upper West Side Mahoning Avenue area where the library is located.

It’s less of a struggle in the adjoining lower West Side neighborhood — heading toward Cornersburg, Old Furnace Road and Midlothian Boulevard.

Yet together, those areas make Youngstown’s last (residential) stand.

I know just a little more than a little on this through the maps and mission of Phil Kidd and the crew at Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative.

Where Mayor Jay Williams’ “Youngstown 2010” plan started, the MVOC jumped in and carried on — assessing city neighborhoods in terms of vacant parcels, vacant structures and foreclosures. The assessment graded the vacant structures from salvageable to unsalvageable.

(MVOC is now embarking on neighborhood organizing and empowerment activities, but that’s for another column.)

The assessment data is poured onto a color-coded map — various shades of red, orange, yellow and green squares — that represent each parcel in the city.

The colors layered across a city map make Youngstown look like a huge box of Legos. Virtually the entire residential area of Youngstown is a color block of one shade or another.

Except one area: The lower West Side.

On Kidd’s MVOC map, there are no orange, red or yellow property parcels in the area bordered by Old Furnace, Midlothian and Cornersburg. The area is virtually perfect — Yo-topia, I guess. Kidd is quick to quip when it’s pointed out.

“That’s residency,” he says of the area that’s a haven for city workers. “Get rid of residency and that area goes.”

Well, this week, residency went.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled on a case that makes it unlawful for Ohio governments to force its workers to live within specific boundaries.

I’m glad.

I think rules placed on workers as a condition of employment, beyond the demand for stellar job performance, are slippery.

As a taxpayer, what I want out of a government worker is good service for the pay you get. I don’t care where you live, what you drive, where you shop, etc.

Pro-residency theories include that your pay is our money; we should dictate how it’s spent. Another is that by living where you work, you will have more loyalty and investment.

Fiddlediddly. Your pay is your pay. Do your job and you’ll continue to get paid. That’s my theory. Period.

And as for loyalty and investment, some of the most miserable co-workers I’ve known have lived closest to the workplace.

Politicians are also hypocritical in regard to residency.

Imagine (deeply, please) that Mayor Williams was the mayor of Hunting Valley or Gates Mills or some other posh, tony suburb of Cleveland where a starter home can hit $300,000 — a price impossible on a firefighter’s salary.

Now imagine that firefighter’s union chief petitioning Mayor Jay to raise salaries to a level that would allow the firefighter (or streets worker or police officer) to afford a house because (insert here a residency theory)

It would not happen. Mayor Jay would not pay a cop or streets worker $150,000 per year.

The answer would be: “You’re paid to serve the city, not live in the city.”

So, because we’re in the reverse situation, it’s no less unreasonable.

What is reasonable is to sustain strong neighborhoods like what currently exists on the West Side so that workers have a reason to stay.

And you partner with institutions like libraries and schools to ensure you are all in concert to sustain strong neighborhoods.

Such a community earns loyalty that can’t be forced.

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