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Valley logs blockbuster success in push to raze blighted homes



Published: Wed, March 19, 2014 @ 12:00 a.m.

Kaboom!

Expect that ear-piercing sound to intensify throughout the Mahoning Valley in coming months as wrecking balls take straight aim at hundreds of abandoned homes primarily in Youngstown and Warren. Thanks to competitive grants totaling about $7 million, more than 300 dilapidated houses will be leveled in our community, ousting blight and clearing the way for green space ripe for potential redevelopment.

Earlier this month, the Ohio Housing Finance Agency announced it would award $4.2 million in grant funding to the Mahoning County Land Bank and $3.2 million to the Trumbull County Land Bank expressly for housing demolition. The money comes from $60 million that Ohio received through the federal government’s Hardest Hit Fund, originally intended to provide money to those losing their homes to foreclosure. The money will be used to demolish at least 300 homes in the two counties over the next two years.

The success of the two county land banks promises expedited progress in removing one of the ugliest urban sores on the Valley: the proliferation of abandoned, blighted, unsafe housing that that are breeding grounds for illicit drug trade and other crimes, dangerous to public health, costly for local governments and embarrassing and value-reducing stains on otherwise proud neighborhoods. According to the Government Accountability Office, vacant properties reduce the value of a nearby home by about 10 percent.

The successful grant awards illustrate the value of cooperative relationships among local, state and federal officials. City leaders have communicated forcefully the need to bulldoze the approximately 5,000 blighted homes in the Valley with help from other sources. U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, quickly stepped up to the plate to draft and pass legislation to use Hardest Hit funds for their originally unintended purpose of demolition.

In Columbus, state Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-33rd of Boardman, and others worked to win General Assembly approval for securing a chunk of those HH funds for the Ohio Housing Finance Agency to oversee statewide demolition.

When the ball landed in the court of the Mahoning Valley’s two land banks, they energetically and skillfully seized the opportunity to grab some of those much-needed funds. The grants, after all, were highly competitive. Land bank and city leaders clearly did their homework in planning and executing grant requests.

SKILLFULLY CRAFTED GRANT REQUESTS

OHFA officials judged requests on numerous factors, including experience of the applicant, targeted area plans, acquisition and demolition strategies and greening and maintenance plans. In the end, OHFA awarded Mahoning County more than eight times the $500,000 minimum recommended for counties with populations under 250,000. It awarded Trumbull County a whopping six times more than the minimum. In contrast, nearby Summit County, with a population of 541,000, received the absolute minimum of $2 million for counties its size.

Now with the funds in hand, we urge program leaders to maneuver their way quickly through the bureaucratic maze toward destination demolition. Coupled with Youngstown and Warren’s own demolition programs, Valley residents should in the not-too-distant future see visible results of the expert planning.

Land bank leaders also should maximize their proven expertise by applying for a second round of millions of dollars in state demolition grants from Hardest Hit later this year. In that way, the smashing success of the Valley’s fight to bulldoze blight and construct community pride can roar on unabated.


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