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MVOC: Youngstown did not act quickly enough



Published: Fri, July 15, 2011 @ 12:05 a.m.

By Denise Dick

denise_dick@vindy.com

youngstowN

The Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative does not believe the city has acted quickly enough to address blight and property vacancy.

MVOC’s Vacant Property Campaign last March presented results of the organization’s 2010 Youngstown Vacant Property Survey. The data revealed that increased demolition activity alone has proven ineffective at slowing the spread of disinvestment, property abandonment and blight.

Campaign members set, and several top city officials agreed to, a July 1 deadline for action on four key recommendations: fixing code enforcement, establishing a vacant property registration ordinance, increasing community engagement and partnerships and establishing the Mahoning County land bank. The deadline has passed without meaningful progress on three of the four recommendations, MVOC said.

The MVOC is a community organizing initiative aimed at improving urban neighborhoods in Youngstown and Warren. Phil Kidd, an MVOC organizer, said there have been a lot of promises from the city that haven’t been fulfilled.

Mayor Jay Williams couldn’t be reached.

Bill D’Avignon, director of the city’s community development agency, said he wasn’t aware that a deadline had been set.

He said he put forth a vacant property ordinance to city council’s CDA committee.

Councilman Jamael Tito Brown, D-3rd, is chairman of that committee and says the ordinance was given to the city prosecutor’s office for review.

“We have to make sure we have the legal ground to stand on and have the relevance to enforce it through the city prosecutor’s office,” Brown said. “It’s one thing to put it in place and another to enforce it.”

Kidd said he doesn’t know how much passing the buck is going on among different city representatives within the city “and we don’t care. This needs to move forward.”

Brown said the group’s criticism is unwarranted as it may not have all of the facts.

He believes such an ordinance is necessary to address the number of vacant properties and said the city is committed to making that happen. But such an ordinance has to have teeth too, Brown said.

“If it doesn’t have any teeth, we’re not going to be able to enforce and it makes no difference in the neighborhoods,” the councilman said.

MVOC also wanted action on the city’s code enforcement.

“Commitment to code enforcement has been minimal,” Delores Womack of the city’s South Side said in a news release. “Just three small sweeps have happened since early March. After years’ worth of negotiations and a promise to form a new division of inspection by July 1, it has yet to be formed.”

She said the city also committed to a Citizen Inspection Program that has yet to be formed, and the group is still waiting for a housing website with public access for residents to track the progress of housing citations.

Kidd said there have been smaller sweeps but nothing to signal the commitment the organization is looking for.

The one area in which MVOC says it has seen progress is creation of a Mahoning County land bank under new county Treasurer Dan Yemma. The land bank’s board of directors met in late June to begin reviewing policies and procedures.

“By and large we are pleased the new treasurer is working to sustain the progress of the land bank,” Chris Travers, president of the Seventh Ward Citizens Coalition, said in a news release. “However, it is one component of a comprehensive plan to reinvigorate the economic welfare and security of our neighborhoods.”


Comments

1ytownsteelman(626 comments)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

Depend upon govt. and you get burned! If you want something done find a way to do it yourself!

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2PhilKidd(186 comments)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

@ytownsteelman: These are municipal functions. That cannot be enacted by citizens.
---
I am the lead organizer of the Vacant Property campaign at MVOC and have worked on this issue extensively for over 2 years. I probably know more about urban blight in older industrial cities (and what's being done to combat it) than many people would want to know.

Blight is a problem of epidemic proportions in Youngstown. Our 2010 report data only underscored that fact. We - block watch leaders and organizers - also understand the dynamics, resources and capacity realities in City Hall. As such, the recommendations in the report were carefully made given those considerations. They were also made by national experts on the matter who spent considerable time in Youngstown. In fact, Councilman Brown was a board member of the organization who brought these individuals to the area.

The comments from officials is nothing more than continued political spin and excuse making and it is disappointing. For example, the Vacant Property Registration Ordinance was presented to council over a YEAR ago. Many other cities - to include Canton - already have such legislation. Exactly how long does it take to make the necessary language changes?

This is precisely the reason we set a deadline (July 1st) at the press conference in March. It was a reasonable amount of time but also short enough so it would keep the city on task. The city committed to having significant progress made on each of recommendations by that date but it has not demonstrated any real sense of urgency or firm commitment despite meeting after meeting with them (keep in mind, we are talking about basic strategies in which many other cities are already exercising). The deadline has passed and citizens are upset with the city holding up their end of the bargain.

There are good people who work hard in City Hall, however, in our experience, the real issue is management (from the top down) - particularly when it comes to neighborhood matters. Sadly, we are talking about fundamental functions and best practice policy given the parameters we already have to work within.

The results are what they are at this point. It is sad that it takes so much pressure to enact change on such a fundamental level. All we want is the work done. Youngstown's neighborhoods are crumbling. Where is sense of urgency and the leadership?

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3ChrisTravers(4 comments)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

The teeth that have taken a year to locate may wind up on someone's backside soon.

The general public and public officials alike seem resigned to the expectation that the legislative process must be slow and methodical and more than a tad tedious. It’s true what Otto von Bismarck said about laws and sausages: you don’t really want to watch either one being made. However, a year without an ounce of progress toward vacant property registration is simply unacceptable. Months of relative inactivity on other solutions is likewise unacceptable.

Representatives of neighborhood groups did not ask for miracles back on March 3rd at the Covelli Centre press event. Practical recommendations were made and a deadline of July 1st was set for a progress report. Let’s be clear about that: a report was requested, not total resolution of all of the city’s problems. Residents wanted to see simple indications that meaningful progress was being made toward recommendations that will provide the basis for safety, security, and reinvestment in Youngstown. The county held up its end of the bargain by launching the land bank prior to that deadline, but the City has failed to demonstrate similar urgency.

When the mayor spoke at the March event, he clearly stated that steps were already being taken toward these recommendations. So why can no one step forward now and report progress? Did they think we would forget about all this and go away? Did they think that city residents would be satisfied listening to excuses rather than seeing work being done on solutions? If July 1st was perceived as an unrealistic date on which to be held accountable, why did no one complain back in March?

Indeed we want teeth in our ordinances, but those of us who live, invest, and still feel a tremendous sense of pride in our city want to see our municipal government sink its teeth into the real work of providing solutions.

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4Stopthemadness(1 comment)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

Hey, Phil Kidd, is this your pre mayorial candidate speech? We all know what you and MVOC is up to. You think cuz you got Wean to buy your bull that everyone will. Everyone should contact Gail Stark with the SAANDI project so she can tell you how MVOC / Phil Kidd tried to come in and take over and when he couldn't, he tried to stop her and mess up SAANDI's relationship with Mayor Wms. They don't have an original idea in their head and they steal everyone's work and claim it for their own. If it aint MVOC's way, then they'll try to screw you over. Has everyone forgotten that MVOC SCREWED UP the NSP application for the city, got 1 million from Wean Fnd, but used 70% for their salaries and NOT back into the city??? Buty they care about blighted properties and how the city looks? Now they have the nerve to criticize someone??? Time to WISE UP YTOWN. Time to shut MVOC & YNDC down! They are only here to suck the life out of us, use us, then they'll be on to another area like the co exec dir has done before. Pull their 990 report that they submitted to the IRS and you'll see how much they've spent on themselves, salaries, traveling, etc. If they CARE so much about the city, then why aren't they putting more of that Wean money into the city? WISE UP AND STOP THE MADNESS!

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5Anonymouse(36 comments)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

The timelines established in the Spring are realistic and the fact that the City failed to meet them is evidence of something not working within City Hall. I suspect too much internal politics, but I digress. That the County has jumped onboard more quickly than the city in engaging and enacting its citizen's needs is great; it's time for City Hall in Youngstown to follow suit.

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6patsy3(2 comments)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

The fact that the City government does not act on what the citizen’s concerns are is nothing new. The easiest quote is to say, “We are looking into it”. The sad part is that the people that live in these neighborhoods have been listening to this same song and dance forever. Now when approximately 24,000 parcels are empty in the city and growing, they still want to pass the blame on to others. Heck of a quote from Councilman Jamal Tito Brown D-3rd
“If it doesn’t have any teeth, we’re not going to be able to enforce and it makes no difference in the neighborhoods,” the councilman said.
Well if it is the law –it just might make a difference to the family who lives next door to one of those vacant blighted properties in your ward. To say it makes no difference in a neighborhood is pathetic.

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7westside(47 comments)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

"MVOC: Youngstown did not act quickly enough"

A more appropriate title would have been, "Youngstown Continues Not to Act at All"

The vacant property registration ordinance was introduced OVER A YEAR AGO. How much time does Councilman Tito need to get his facts straight? I think he needs to go knock on some doors and find out the priorities of those he's supposed to be representing.

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8ACTION2010(1 comment)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

I think everyone's pretty much on the same page that vacant property and poor code enforcement are complex challenges brought about (in part) by a combination of poor business and public policy decisions both locally and nationally over decades. City government alone cannot tackle these problems.

However, the city should be arming itself with new and efficient tools to help tackle these issues. A well-run citizen inspection program would allow the city to use concerned citizens to track and report code enforcement violations. A good vacant property registration ordinance would provide the city with the teeth it needs to hold vacant property owners accountable for their negligence. These tools, if implemented properly, would help city government to face these challenges more efficiently and effectively on a tight budget and with limited staff. They would also help city residents to gain more power to protect and preserve their neighborhoods.

Perhaps most important of these recommendations is the Land Bank, which will help Mahoning County free up thousands of vacant properties mired in debt, cut the red tape, and put them back on the market at a fair rate to business owners, savvy investors, local nonprofits, and Valley homeowners who have a plan to put them back into productive use.

These tools will help us, as tax-paying citizens, put our money to productive use for the redevelopment of our community. This kind of push-back from city government is to be expected, because making these changes will take a lot of time, hard work, and political maneuvering that no one wants to be responsible for taking on. However, they're absolutely necessary for our city and our Valley to survive.

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9TB(1167 comments)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

"Depend upon govt. and you get burned! If you want something done find a way to do it yourself!"

Actually, the dependence is on the ACTUAL PROPERTY OWNERS to take care of their property. They are either unable or refuse. (Many are out of town as well.)

I applaud the MVOC on their efforts to make Youngstown a better place and the well-reasoned comments (most) on this article.

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10leahifft(3 comments)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

Yes, the actual property owners do need to be held accountable. The citizens have asked the city for the tools necessary to be able to assist in this process, and we have not been given access to them.
Our neighborhoods are home to many tireless volunteers who are willing to assist the city by participating in code sweeps, and maintaining vacant lots and abandoned properties.
They bring issues to the attention of, and offer assistance to, those in positions to take action, and are brushed aside, and pacified.
How much longer are we willing to allow ourselves to be pacified while we watch our neighborhoods further deteriorate? The problem of blight and abandoned properties will not disappear. We must continue to hold property owners and city government accountable.

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11Anonymouse(36 comments)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

If our council people worked half as hard as some of the poor, broke people that they supposedly represent, we'd be a lot farther ahead than we are now. Instead they sit on their asses and hoard power.

You know what? Tito and company better watch out. At some point they're going to run for a contested office in town and people will remember this bullsh*t. And then they'll find that it's a lot harder to get elected when accountability comes into play.

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12andyd5(1 comment)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

I think that action2010 has made some very good points in the post above. It is time for the city to come to the forefront on this issue and it is time for our citizens to express their concern. The only time government listens is when the electorate raises their voice.

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13juggygails(24 comments)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

Who in the heck does Phil Kidd and the MVOC think they are? Giving the Ctiy a "deadline"? That is such bull. It is really easy to sit back and write "reports", btw I would LOVE to read that somebody please post, and make demands. What do you do with the elderly person that cannot afford to make the necessary improvements to their home? How about the judge that dissmisses all of the charges after you spend months pursuing violations? It is really easy to criticize and throw "threats", yeah I said it, at the City who has ZERO resources to put to code enforcement especially when you are campaigning and getting paid to campaign, with taxpayer dollars, to run for office. Right Phil? Mr. Kidd has become much more vocal since the news that Mayor Williams is leaving office. Dealing with Mr. Samarone will be a liiiiittttle different Phil.

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14patsy3(2 comments)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

At least the MVOC is trying to do something in the neighborhoods. It is very easy to sit back and do nothing. If an elderly person, needs help with improvements on there home, maybe a neighbor can help them or get an agency involved to help. THAT IS CALLED BEING A NEIGHBOR...Judges dismissing charges --nothing new---make yourself known downtown with Court watch--Because some people are sick of the NAYSAYERS---I being included---Why don't you try to make a difference--It's real easy to criticize...

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15One_Who_Stayed(236 comments)posted 2 years, 12 months ago

@juggygails

City council and the city administration work for US - the tax-paying - long suffering citizens of this city. MVOC is a voice for US. They have every right in the world to demand that City Council get off their asses and do what they said they would do. This is what we as citizens of this city demand they do, or out they go.

City council is not some autonomous entity that can do (or in this case - not do) whatever they please. They're only function is to do what we the constituents tell them to do. They are our employees - no more - no less. The sooner they loose the idea that they know better (which they clearly don't) and they can do whatever they please whenever they please - the better for all of us.

And I have not believed for a single second that the problem is in the mayor's office (be it Jay Williams or Chuck Sammarone). The problem is our in-fighting, ego-centric, turf-battling, do-nothing city council.

End of story.

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16Anonymouse(36 comments)posted 2 years, 11 months ago

Government works for us, or at least it should. Certainly not the other way around. We as citizens are more than entitled to set deadlines for our elected and non-elected government employees.

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