One federal agency is permitting the city to use a bulk of its Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds for housing demolition, but another federal agency is causing the demolition costs to almost double.
City officials say that means Youngstown will be able to demolish only 140 vacant houses when the $1,096,328 in NSP funds would have knocked down about twice as many structures last year.
“It’s a waste of money,” said Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, D-6th.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency started enforcing a policy at the beginning of the year requiring communities using federal money, including the NSP funds awarded to Youngstown by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, to test for asbestos and clean it up, if it exists, for every structure it will demolish.
It typically costs the city about $2,500 to $4,000 for each housing demolition, said Sean McKinney, Youngstown’s buildings and grounds commissioner. With testing and abatement, that cost increases to $4,000 to $6,000 a house, he said.
“We’re very thankful to receive federal money, but we’re disappointed we have to spend the funds for testing and abating,” he said.
Mayor Jay Williams says other cities are also complaining about the new policy, and called the requirement “unreasonable” and “an overreach” by the EPA.
In addition to demolitions, NSP money is to be used to purchase foreclosed houses, fix them up and sell them as well as provide financial assistance to those who are losing their houses.
City council will be asked at its next meeting, June 15, to accept and allocate the $1,096,328 NSP money, and the city administration will award contracts for the work shortly thereafter, McKinney said.
The city received good news from HUD on Wednesday about this money.
HUD had originally placed a 10-percent cap on NSP money for demolition projects. The city sought a waiver to increase that to 66 percent. HUD officials approved the city’s waiver request Wednesday.
The city has demolished about 2,400 structures since 2006.