Youngstown may exceed mayor’demolition expectation
By David Skolnick
It looks like the city will reach — and possibly exceed — the mayor’s expectation at the beginning of the year to have 1,000 dilapidated houses in its neighborhoods demolished in 2013.
As of Thursday, 581 houses were demolished in the city with an additional 212 planned to be taken down in the next couple of months, said DeMaine Kitchen, the mayor’s chief of staff/secretary and the city’s point-man on demolition.
It was less than three months ago that Kitchen reported that only 121 houses were demolished with an additional 177 expected to come down by mid-May.
The difference is the significant increase in the number of houses taken down by their owners, Kitchen and Mayor Charles Sammarone said.
Between the first of the year and mid-March, only five homeowners paid to have their structures demolished and 37 more received permits to take down the vacant houses.
As of Thursday, owners of 169 vacant houses had the structures taken down themselves so far this year with an additional 40 receiving permits to demolish their houses in the next two months, Kitchen said.
Kitchen and Sammarone credit housing-prosecution hearings that require owners of houses in poor condition to work out time lines with the city prosecutor’s office to improve or demolish their houses.
Also, having the owner demolish a house is a lot cheaper than the city’s paying for it, Kitchen said.
On average, it costs the city about $7,500 to have a contractor demolish a residential structure, Kitchen said. That translates into a saving of about $1.27 million to the city for the 169 houses already demolished this year by homeowners.
“That’s big, having houses torn down by property owners,” Sammarone said.
In comparison, there were 412 houses demolished last year and 304 in 2011. There were about 70 private demolitions done in each of those years.
The city has also stepped up its efforts to increase in-house demolitions with the street department taking down 208 homes so far this year with another 50 scheduled to be demolished in the next couple of months, Kitchen said.
The city recently purchased new equipment and plans to hire two to three additional street-department workers to concentrate on demolitions, Sammarone said. There are three street department workers currently focused on demolitions, he said.
Demolitions done by street-department workers cost about $3,500 to $4,000 each, Kitchen said.
“All we pay is the dumping fee,” he said. “We’re not paying the demo fee because they’re city workers.”
Sammarone had set a goal at the beginning of the year to take down 1,000 houses in the city in 2013. About 1,070 houses were in such bad shape that they needed to come down soon, city officials said earlier this year, and there are 4,000 to 5,000 vacant houses in Youngstown.
Also, Sammarone said the city understands that some people, particularly senior citizens, don’t have the money to demolish their vacant homes.
“There are people who want to comply, but can’t afford it,” he said. “We’ve got to come up with a way to provide options for those people to get those houses down.”