Cities need boost in funding to make a dent in demolition

There are nearly 6,000 vacant homes in Youngstown and Warren that must be demolished, but like most older urban centers the cities don’t have the money to make even a dent in the inventory of dilapidated structures. As a result, once stable neighborhoods could easily fall prey to fast-moving decay .

Mayors Charles Sammarone of Youngstown and Doug Franklin of Warren know all too well that without an aggressive demolition program, their cities will be fighting a losing battle. Hence, Sammarone and Franklin have committed significant portions of their budgets to tearing down vacant, crumbling homes.

But, the resources are inadequate. The two cities could use a lot more money, which is why U.S. Sen. Rob Portman’s proposal to transfer $60 million left over from foreclosure relief funds to housing demolition in the state has been met with enthusiastic support.

“I’m 1,000 percent behind any effort to get more money from the federal government for demolition,” said Youngstown’s Democratic mayor of the Republican senator’s Neighborhood Safety Act. “It’s great news. Hopefully, [Portman] can accomplish this for every community in the state because it’s a huge issue. Demo is the No. 1 complaint I get.”

Youngstown has between 4,000 and 5,000 vacant buildings, and has torn down about 300 so far this year. An additional 209 are scheduled for demolition in the next four months.

The city has committed about $2.5 million for housing demolition this year — $1 million from a program launched by Attorney General Mike DeWine to assist local communities in cleanup efforts; $840,180 from the city’s general fund; $475,000 from the city’s federal Community Development Block Grant allocation, and $250,000 from an Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation rebate.

In Warren, Mayor Franklin would like to take down a sizable number of the 1,000 or so vacant homes, which is why he says the city “enthusiastically supports” Portman’s initiative.

Trumbull County received $1.2 million from the attorney general, while Warren contributed $500,000. Demolition is taking place in Warren, Warren Township and the rest of the county.

In the city, more than 300 houses have been razed, and the plan is to demolish another 60 or so by year’s end.

The $60 million that Portman is eyeing would come out of the Hardest Hit Fund, which had $7.6 billion in it when the program to assist homeowners facing the loss of their homes through foreclosures was launched in 2010.

Ohio was allocated $570 million, of which $170 million has been used.

‘Plague of blight’

“The city of Warren enthusiastically supports the initiative of opening up the Hardest Hit Fund to aid in improving our property values and curing the plague of blight caused by dilapidated houses,” said Warren’s Democratic mayor.

A companion bill to Portman’s is in the House of Representatives 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.

The bipartisan effort is noteworthy considering the political gridlock in Congress. With Republicans and Democrats on the same page, we would expect the leadership of both parties to push through the legislation so cities like Youngstown and Warren can continue the important work of cleaning up and stabilizing neighborhoods.

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