By JOSH STIPANOVICH
Youngstown State University sophomore Eric Shehadi presented city officials with a mathematical model Wednesday that could help them determine priority demolitions.
The model scored 3,405 homes in Youngstown using a point system — 100 points being a high priority and 0 being a low priority.
“It could be a great tool,” said Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, who invited Shehadi. “It opens a good discussion.”
The variables that help determine total points for a structure are property conditions and what’s going on within the neighborhood where the vacant structure is located — such as active neighborhood watch groups.
Shehadi got the idea for the model last winter. It takes a more quantitative look into the city’s blighted homes. The city last September had nearly 4,000 vacant structures that needed to be demolished.
He attributes the city’s population decline to the increasing number of vacant homes. His data shows that since the city’s peak population of 170,000 in 1930, the city hasn’t been able to
attract residents. In 2010, according U.S. Census Bureau data, Youngstown’s population was at 66,982 — a decrease of 103,020.
“One of the most visual things is the population shift,” Shehadi said.
The math major researched data from three surveys — a 2012 survey conducted by the city and two Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative surveys, one in 2008 and 2010.
“I thought it was a great idea ... combining some of the work I was doing with [Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp.] and what I was doing in mathematics,” Shehadi said. “Maybe it could benefit the city.”
But Youngstown Mayor Chuck Sammarone doesn’t think so. The model, he said, reminded him of a similar idea the city tried 20 years ago when he was a councilman.
“They’re trying to prioritize complaints. It makes sense, but it doesn’t work. A priority is determined by the person complaining.
Everyone’s complaint is a high priority,” Sammarone said. “The city’s responsibility is to resolve it as soon and as quick and as efficiently as possible.”
He said the city’s current model has been working and complaints have decreased. “We’re getting all good compliments on what we’ve done in demo,” Sammarone said.
The city has hired a consultant who does the preliminary, environmental and final inspections, Sammarone said. The city also uses its street departments and private contractors to help demolish vacant homes.
Another “in-house” demolition crew is being added as well, he added.
“If it’s in-house, we control it quicker,” he said.
DeMaine Kitchen, demolition department chief of staff, was impressed with the mathematical aspect of the model because it’s something the city hasn’t seen before. He said he hopes parts of the model can be used as soon as this year.
“What he presented today was good information for us to begin to weigh the factors that we want to include in a model so that it maximizes our efforts,” he said.
Kitchen and several council members, however, voiced concerns about funding and the proposed scoring system.
Councilwoman Janet Tarpley, D-6th, said each citizen should have the services available to them and not just those who live in a neighborhood with a watch group. She’s worried Shehadi’s model would inadvertently leave women, children and the poor out of the equation.
The average cost to demolish a home is $7,500. In September, council voted to transfer $475,000 to demolition, on top of the additional $1 million the city was using from the general fund and $1 million from a state program. Even that money wouldn’t solve the city’s laundry list of vacant structures, Sammarone said in September.
While the model isn’t a “set-in-stone” idea, Shehadi is happy with its potential. He said he’s aware there are variables that did not allow him to examine each home to its fullest potential. He referred to the 2012 city survey, in which conditions of the structures were left out.
Conditions of the structures “are going to be one of our big things that we’re going to be looking at when we want to demolish a home,” Shehadi said.
Ray said the city’s first step in determining whether Shehadi’s model would be used is to compare data the city already has with Shehadi’s findings. Shehadi’s model is “a good indicator,” he added.