City council agrees to spend $8M to tear down vacant houses

Council agrees to spend $8M to tear down vacant houses

YOUNGSTOWN — City council approved spending $8 million to demolish 500 of the worst vacant houses in Youngstown as well as to apply for $1.6 million in grants for a downtown improvement project.

The $8 million would come from the $82,775,370 the city was awarded from the federal American Rescue Plan Act with work starting early next year.

Also, the city will be seeking state grants with the assistance of the Mahoning County Land Bank, which would allow them to leverage ARP money and possibly take down a total of 800 or so abandoned houses over an 18-month period, Michael Durkin, code enforcement and blight remediation superintendent, said.

The city will seek state grants for up to $9 million with a $3 million local match, Durkin said. If that occurs, the city will use $3 million from the ARP fund for demolition and put the unused portion of the $8 million allocation approved Wednesday by council toward other allowable uses under the federal program, he said.

The city had 869 abandoned houses at last count.

“It’s incredible,” Durkin said. “It’s one last mass demolition where we can get to the point of rehabbing other structures and get out of the demolition business. We’d get down to 50 demolitions a year once this is done.”

Council also voted 6-1 Wednesday to approve ordinances authorizing the board of control to apply for a $1.3 million state grant and $300,000 in federal money for a downtown improvement project to sections of Walnut and Boardman streets.

The ordinances were postponed at previous meetings with some council members saying too much money was spent on downtown streets rather than corridors and neighborhoods.

The project is estimated to cost $2.86 million with the $1.26 million not covered by the grants paid by the city.

Charles Shasho, deputy director of public works, said at a Monday finance committee meeting that since 2014 the city has used Ohio Public Works Commission grants for $22 million worth of improvements — that includes $5.5 million from the city — with about $16.3 million of it for projects in the neighborhoods and corridors.

The deadline to apply for the state grant is Friday. Shasho said the application is ready to go and he was confident the city would get both the state and federal grants.

The project includes reducing the number of vehicular lanes, road paving, streetscape work, lighting upgraded, adding greenspace as well as a stairway on Walnut Street from Commerce to Wood streets.

The lone no vote for the ordinances for the state and the federal grant applications came from Councilwoman Anita Davis, D-6th Ward, who has been consistent in her opposition to this project saying the city’s money could be better spent.

Also Wednesday, council voted 6-1 in favor of spending $420,000 to purchase seven SUVs and needed equipment for the police department’s community police program.

The vehicles would be used exclusively by community police officers, said police Chief Carl Davis. He pointed out the community police officers can be called to back up other officers at any time so the vehicles could be used for that purpose.

Because of staffing issues at the police department, community officers are not exclusively assigned to those duties, Davis said.

The lone no vote came from Councilman Jimmy Hughes, D-2nd Ward, a former police chief.

Hughes didn’t explain his vote.

Just two weeks ago, Hughes was the only council member to vote against a three-year contract for the police patrol union. He refused to discuss why he opposed the contract.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper? *

Starting at $2.99/week.

Subscribe Today