By most accounts, the city of Youngstown can take pride in its smashing success in clearing dilapidated, vacant, blighted and dangerous housing. More than 3,000 such homes have come tumbling down over the past three years.
On the surface, that sounds like herculean progress. But given the monumental scope of housing eyesores in Youngstown — some 5,000 homes remain vacant and in varying stages of decay — and given the continuing chorus of criticism over the speed, priorities and quality of demolition, clearly the city has its hands full to ensure the momentum of that top priority does not falter and that its contractors complete their work fully and safely.
Most recently, the city has heard legitimate grumbling from some residents that a few demolition contractors have left projects unfinished and therefore potentially more dangerous and more ugly than the original blight.
On Norwood Avenue, for example, complaints have targeted partially destroyed homes left unfinished. On one property on Norwood, as of last month, the concrete foundation remained, virtually untouched, as were large sections of the house’s structure with a four-step concrete staircase on its side and in one piece. In addition, piles of debris including shingles, window frames, a microwave and garbage were left exposed for weeks.
Such disorder has rightly angered those striving to maintain a semblance of civility on their street.
The city recognizes as much. “It’s ugly, it’s an eyesore, but it’s not illegal to start the job and then return,” said DeMaine Kitchen, who oversees the city’s demolition program.
We would suggest that housing demolition isn’t rocket science. Though hampered and slowed by reams and reams and reams of regulations from state, local and federal authorities, once a project gets the green light, there should be little reason to stop it before the property is destroyed and its remnants fully cleared.
If the city’s contractors are not doing the job correctly or expeditiously, the city should step in and exert appropriately firm pressure. A second round of property abandonment cannot be tolerated. The program is too valuable to settle for anything less than all due speed and superior workmanship.
It also is too valuable for the city’s safety, aesthetics and image to not proceed as aggressively as possible by tapping all available resources.
One of those prime resources is some $2.5 million Mahoning County is receiving from Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Moving Ohio Forward Demolition Program. The lion’s share of that amount flows to Youngstown, yet only $382,754 of the total so far has been spent, the Columbus Dispatch reported over the weekend. The city and county risk losing the $2 million remainder if the funding is not spent by year’s end, That must not happen, which means Youngstown and other communities in the Valley and the state must step on the gas and use those funds wisely and fully.
Through exhausting all available resources and through monitoring work to ensure projects proceed to completion fully and safely, the city of Youngstown can engender pride and respect from its residents and outsiders.
It can also continue to restore order, safety and civility to its neighborhoods one downed chunk of blight at a time.