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North Siders: Unfinished demolitions escalating crime, blight



Published: Sat, June 15, 2013 @ 12:01 a.m.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

skolnick@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

Abandoned, dilapidated houses aren’t unusual on Norwood Avenue in the city’s Brier Hill neighborhood.

But there are two locations on a short stretch of Norwood between Wirt and Margaret streets that are somewhat unique because city officials are not only aware that both have been in dangerous conditions for several weeks, but contractors hired by the city created the problems.

One is wide open on its sides and without a front door, and the other only partially torn down.

“The gripes are legitimate, but it’s an issue facing the city,” said DeMaine Kitchen, the mayor’s chief of staff/secretary who oversees the city’s demolition program. “We have houses in the city that are as bad or worse. We don’t like it any more than the neighbors. That’s the reality of the level of blight we’re dealing with.”

Both will be fully demolished in a couple of weeks, Kitchen said.

The vacant house that once stood at 847 Norwood Ave. was demolished partially about three weeks ago by Mike Pusateri Excavating of East Liverpool.

The concrete foundation remains, virtually untouched, as are large sections of the house’s structure with a four-step concrete staircase on its side and in one piece, and a lot of debris including shingles, window frames, a microwave and garbage.

“The city is creating problems by not finishing the work and letting these houses get so bad,” said Patricia Coney, who’s lived the past 17 years at 1029 Norwood Ave. in her childhood home. “The demolition work is very sloppy. I know the city is doing the best it can. I’m thankful for everything they do, but they’re a little slow in what they need to do.”

Pusateri should return in the next week or two to finish the work, Kitchen said.

“It’s ugly, it’s an eyesore, but it’s not illegal to start the job and then return,” Kitchen said. “It’s dangerous standing up, and it’s dangerous coming down. The complaint is valid without a doubt, but we’re responding to it.”

The second property is at 803 Norwood on the corner of Wirt.

A few months ago, Safeco Environmental, a Marion, Pa., company hired by the city for asbestos removal, did work on that house.

During the abatement process, Safeco made huge holes on either side of the house that remain.

Besides the large holes, the front door to the house is missing as are several windows, and old carpet and wood is dumped in the yard. Hardly any of the vacant house is boarded up.

“Can you believe that?” Coney said. “It’s on a main thoroughfare, and all I hear from the city is: ‘We’re going to take care of this.’ This is outrageous. How can they do this and leave it?”

A city street department crew will start work to demolish 803 Norwood in a few weeks, Kitchen said.

Again, Kitchen acknowledges the danger of the open building.

“For every complaint that [Coney] gave, there are 1,000 more worse or the same as where she lives,” he said. “We’re responding to the complaints.”

Stella Pittman of 817 Norwood, who lives next door to that structure, said the city has an obligation to secure that vacant home, demolish it and clean it up.

She said 803 Norwood has been vacant for only two years, but it fell apart from neglect and vandals.

“It’s kind of scary living here with the bad element and the vacant houses,” said Pittman, who’s lived in her home since 1975.

When she moved to this street on the city’s North Side, Pittman said, “It was wonderful. But new neighbors came in, they didn’t take care of their homes, rented them or just left.”

Among the numerous other nearby abandoned houses in that area is 936 Margaret St., on a Norwood corner lot.

The house, vacant for two years, looks like it’s been empty for decades.

Bushes surrounding the house have grown so high that only the roof is visible for the most part. A closer look reveals the siding has been ripped off the house.

The most visible location is the garage area, where four abandoned tires sit nearby. The garage door, which had its plywood ripped off, is filled with a mountain of garbage.

It’s become a popular dumping ground in just a few months, Coney said.

Kitchen, who visited the Margaret Street location Thursday at Coney’s request, said work to demolish the vacant house should start in a few weeks.

“Unfortunately, 936 Margaret St. is no different than other houses in the city,” Kitchen said.

The city has about 4,000 to 5,000 vacant houses, including at least 1,000 that need to come down quickly, city officials say.

Coney said she is “seriously considering leaving this neighborhood. It’s my family house and I love it, but the area continues to get worse. People either abandon houses or rent to people who don’t care. It’s awful to live like this. I don’t want to have company come to my house because I don’t want them to see where I live.”


Comments

1NoBS(2004 comments)posted 1 year, 6 months ago

How does a demolition company only do half the job? How does it walk away from a half-torn down house, and not come back the next morning to finish the job?

If somebody gets hurt in one of those houses, they'll own the city (and maybe that wouldn't be a bad thing!)

And for DeMain Kitchen to say, “We have houses in the city that are as bad or worse. We don’t like it any more than the neighbors. That’s the reality of the level of blight we’re dealing with.” is astoundingly irresponsible. It doesn't matter that there are other hazardous structures in the city. The city itself caused these structures to be hazardous, and has left them that way for weeks, knowing their condition. That's just begging for a lawsuit.

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2dawgalong(86 comments)posted 1 year, 6 months ago

NoBS, it's been raining for 2 weeks now. There are safety factors involved with putting a 40k machine into a swamp.
Then you'll have a huge mess. When the final grade is completed there will be wood and other debris mixed in to the topsoil. That will be a safety factor for years. The street will be covered in mud, everything will be a huge mess. Plus, once the debris gets wet, the weight increases and dump charges can go up 30%. The profit margin is so low for these contractors to begin with that all you need is a stuck or overturned machine to ruin your day.

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3NoBS(2004 comments)posted 1 year, 6 months ago

dawgalong, this isn't a swamp - it's city lots. The 40,000 lb machine is on treads, not wheels - it won't sink in anyone's front yard. Not even with a rookie operator. The treads put less pounds per square inch on the ground than a backhoe or other vehicle with tires does. But that's all beside the point.

The city is liable for any hazards it causes. Period. And for an elected official to say, basically, "so what?" tells people he, and the rest of city council, don't care about them. That's the message Kitchen's attitude sends.

Contractors - construction or demolition - aren't supposed to bury wood. It rots and settles, leaving depressions in the ground. And never mind the attraction for termites and other vermin. So if the demolition contractor does, he should be made to come and remedy the situation. I know dumps charge by the pound - and nobody's saying the contractor has to haul wet debris to the dump. But leaving houses half demolished is inexcusable. Either man up and work in the rain - you're in an enclosed cab, after all - and get the structure down, to be picked up after things dry out, or, maybe pay attention to the weather forecasts and don't start what you can't finish.

As for the street being covered in mud - One, there are laws against that, too - the contractor is responsible for cleanup. And Two, given the condition of some of Youngstown's roads, who would notice?

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4republicanRick(1248 comments)posted 1 year, 6 months ago

Good article by the Vindy.

Appears from this article and others that Demain Kitchen is not qualifed to lead the demolition jobs. He remains completely lost, does not understand how to deal with contractors, and basically just bungles the job.

Demain Kitchen, in the real world, would be fired.

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5kurtw(938 comments)posted 1 year, 6 months ago

I agree with NoBs.

Furthermore, whenever government fails to own up to its responsibility- in this case the responsibility of blight removal (and the EPA by blocking "controlled burns" of abandoned housing is largely responsible here) it throws the ball squarely into the court of "citizen initiative".

It's called ARSON.

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6city_resident(513 comments)posted 1 year, 6 months ago

Arson costs the city MORE money to clean up, because all of the debris has to be treated as contaminated/hazardous waste! (not to mention the danger that fire personnel are put into) If you want fewer houses demolished, set some on fire.

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7kurtw(938 comments)posted 1 year, 6 months ago

The truth is that the cheapest way to get rid of an old house that nobody wants is to burn it down- a controlled burn supervised by the Fire Department (far cheaper than demolition) and it gives the fire men practice. The EPA again- as always- places their own rarefied priorities ahead of common sense and serving the public.

Hazardous Waste? What would you expect to be left after a 1700 degrees fire except charcoal and ash? Makes more sense than to truck everything away and bury it somewhere.

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8city_resident(513 comments)posted 1 year, 6 months ago

Asbestos is rather heat resistant. And once a house has been burned, the asbestos can no longer safely be separated from the rest of the debris.

Of course, in a controlled burn, the house could be abated of lead before burning. But then, I don't think people would appreciate inhaling lead fumes from all of these burning houses, either.

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9hmm(184 comments)posted 1 year, 6 months ago

I paid to have my arson/burnt rental house demo'ed ....... It took them one (1). Day to tear down and remove the debris.... My question is WHY is the city paying for this .... With technologies what they are now .... Most ( not) all owners can be found ( credit report, cell phone. Background checks ) .....

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10kurtw(938 comments)posted 1 year, 6 months ago

Asbestos, once buried, is not a problem to anyone (it's mined in the first place). Inhalation of lead fumes poses serious health problems, but only in a confined, non-ventilated area and in extremely high doses.

These kinds of scare tactics are routinely used by the radical environmentalists to corral the gullible into supporting their agenda. Controlled burns, supervised by the Fire Department are the best, cheapest way of taking down wooden structures. Period.

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