Since 2006, more than 3,000 dilapi- dated structures, mostly houses, have been demolished in the city of Youngstown. While that’s a significant number, there are 4,000 more that need to be torn down. Such is the reality of an older city with a shrinking population and deteriorating neighborhoods.
Mayor John A. McNally, who has been in office since January, believes Youngstown’s demolition and code-enforcement programs are inefficient and could use a major update.
One area that’s getting immediate attention is the long-standing practice of “scattershot” demolition. As the word suggests, the city has long torn down one or two houses on a street or a neighborhood that members of the administration, city council and residents have said are safety and health hazards.
In so doing, there wasn’t a distinction made between those neighborhoods that are too far gone, and others with strengths and weaknesses.
The latter are called “tipping-point neighborhoods.”
Mayor McNally’s theory that government should aim to stabilize healthier sections of the city by tearing down several dilapidated houses at one time is confirmed by BCT Partners of New Brunswick, N.J.
BCT Partners works with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and issued a report last November about Youngstown’s demolition and blight removal. The recommendations in the report are for the city to develop a strategy for not only stabilizing healthier neighborhoods but to cross-train staff and revise its organizational structure for demolition and code enforcement.
The mayor has also targeted what he calls the “unwieldy and inaccurate” online system used to monitor the steps taken to demolish or rehabilitate structures.
“It didn’t communicate anything,” McNally said. He revealed that tests are now being run on a new system that should be online by Sept. 1.
Visitors to the site will find it easier to navigate and be timely.
“It will be easier for the public to monitor what is happening,” McNally pledged.
We applaud the mayor for making the entire demolition program transparent, but he should be aware that Youngstowners, especially those living in “tipping-point neighborhoods,” are impatient and will not hesitate to publicly criticize the administration if the demolition rate and code enforcement slow to a crawl.
With 4,000 or so structures needing to be torn down, Youngstown residents don’t care what strategy is used; they just want the eyesores gone.
That’s the challenge confronting the McNally administration.
McNally has appointed Abigail Brubaker to serve as the city’s chief code official and interim building and housing specialist. As the point-person on demolition and code enforcement, it will be Brubaker’s job to ensure that the clean-up program does not fall victim to bureaucratic inaction and political infighting.
Each of the seven members of council believes demolition in his or her ward to be of the highest priority.
Against that backdrop, it would be helpful if the McNally administration not only publicly identified the structures that need to be torn down, but ranked them by condition, so the public is not kept in the dark.