Sen. Rob Portman wants federal money to be used for demolitions

By David Skolnick


There is a significant need for more funding to help Ohio cities and land banks demolish dilapidated homes to save neighborhoods, particularly in urban areas, said U.S. Sen. Rob Portman.

Portman visited Warren on Thursday to tout a bill he is sponsoring to free up federal money for that purpose.

Portman, a Republican, and Warren Mayor Doug Franklin, a Democrat, joined members of the Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership to tour an area on the city’s northeast side that needs money to demolish abandoned structures.

Portman’s bill would permit Ohio to use part of the $570 million in federal funding the state received from the Hardest Hit Fund to demolish vacant and abandoned homes.

Both Franklin and Youngstown Mayor Charles Sammarone say they strongly support Portman’s proposal.

The fund is intended to provide money to those losing their homes to foreclosure with about $200 million to $240 million of it spent. It must all be spent by the end of 2017 or be returned to the federal government. Some organizations oppose the proposal because the money was intended for those trying to save their homes from foreclosure, and there is unspent money for demolitions in a $75 million attorney-general fund.

Portman said his bill would give the Ohio Housing Finance Agency, which oversees the Hardest Hit program for the state, discretion as to how much it would free up to spend on demolition.

There is a companion bill in the U.S. House co-sponsored by a majority of the Ohio delegation, including U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-13th, and Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th. U.S. Rep. David P. Joyce of Russell, R-14th, is one of the three original sponsors.

Vacant houses lower the property value of neighborhoods and can lead to increased crime, Portman said.

Portman said hehopes he can get an amendment to a bill to include Ohio’s flexibility to spend Hardest Hit money on demolitions.

There are about 100,000 vacant homes in Ohio, including about 4,000 to 5,000 in Youngstown and about 1,000 in Warren.

“These homes cannot be repaired,” Portman said. “They are used for criminal activity, are eyesores and hurt communities.”

Meanwhile the Ohio Housing Finance Agency says the U.S. Department of Treasury will allow it to use $60 million of the Hardest Hit money for demolition. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, has long backed that plan.

In June, Treasury approved a request for Michigan to use up to $100 million from its $500 million Hardest Hit Fund.

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