MVOC: Youngstown did not act quickly enough

By Denise Dick


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.”

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