HUD to Mahoning Valley: Drop dead

The Youngstown mayor, a congressman and others will challenge the decision with White House officials.



YOUNGSTOWN — Mahoning Valley officials are “stunned” and “extremely let down” by a federal agency’s decision to reject the area’s proposal for funding to spur development in hard-hit communities and to create jobs.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced Thursday that it had awarded $2 billion from its Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

The program is designed to help state and local governments and nonprofit agencies acquire land and property, demolish and/or rehabilitate abandoned properties, to offer down payments and closing costs to low- to middle-income home buyers, and create land banks.

The headline Thursday, “HUD to Mahoning Valley: Drop dead,” was, in the words of Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, “quite appropriate. In fact, it may even be an understatement.”

“It literally defies belief and explanation,” Williams said of HUD’s “crushing decision” to reject the Valley’s proposal. “What HUD says and what HUD does seem to be in complete contradiction, if this NSP decision is any indication. This is like running into a brick wall.”

Youngstown spearheaded the $32.4 million nine-community proposal that received praise from the Brookings Institution for its collaborative effort.

The other Valley communities are Warren, Niles, Girard, Campbell, Struthers, Lowellville, McDonald and Newton Falls.

Williams and members of the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative met in September with Ron Sims, HUD’s deputy secretary and the agency’s No. 2 official, about the application. Those at the meeting left with optimism about the local proposal.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, said he is “stunned” by HUD’s rejection of the Valley proposal.

“I have already communicated my disbelief to the White House and HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan,” he said.

Ryan, Williams and others from the Valley are scheduled to meet Wednesday with White House urban-affairs officials in Washington, D.C. That meeting was initially designed to discuss the Youngstown 2010 redevelopment plan.

After Thursday’s announcement, Ryan said, “Our elimination from the NSP program will be at the top of our agenda” at the meeting.

On Thursday, Ryan called the White House and HUD, and he sent a letter to President Barack Obama.

HUD “has missed a prime opportunity to recognize the plight of those smaller, older industrial cities that have suffered a major decline and are presented with a weak recovery in this economy at best,” Ryan wrote to Obama. “Given the quality of the proposal and the need of residents of my district, it is hard for me to believe that of the $2 billion announced [Thursday], the Mahoning River Cities proposal was of no merit.”

Melanie N. Roussell, a HUD spokeswoman, said she can’t speak about a specific application, but those rejected can meet with agency officials to discuss the reasons why their proposals weren’t approved.

Of the 482 applications, 79 were approved for funding.

The state of Ohio will receive $25.4 million. Cities, counties and nonprofits in the state will receive about $150 million.

The nine local communities opted to apply for funding as a group rather than be part of the state’s application — believing they’d receive more money through the first option, said Bill D’Avignon, Youngstown’s community development agency director who spearheaded the proposal.

“I’m shocked and disappointed,” D’Avignon said of HUD’s decision.

Of the $32.4 million, Youngstown was to receive more than $11 million and Warren was to get about $10 million.

More than half of Youngstown’s requested amount was going to be used to demolish vacant and/or dilapidated properties in the city over a three-year period, D’Avignon said.

Michael D. Keys, Warren’s community-development director, said he was initially “extremely angry” because the communities worked so hard.

“We can’t let this decision destroy our collaborative effort,” he said. “We can’t sit back and say, ‘Woe is us. The feds don’t care about us.’ It shouldn’t break up the collaborative effort we’ve made.”

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Canfield, D-33rd, said he was looking forward to the HUD announcement.

“Now I find myself extremely let down,” he said. “... How is that ignored? This is a big blow to neighborhoods in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.”

This isn’t the first time that Youngstown officials have complained about NSP funding.

During the program’s first round of funding in October 2008, Youngstown received $2.7 million. It was one of the smallest allocations from HUD among Ohio’s larger cities even though Youngstown has the highest foreclosure rate in the state, nearly 15 percent.

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