Cities move on demolition

WARREN – Joann Anderson for years has watched criminals, drug users and others go in and out of abandoned homes located across from her York Avenue residence.

“Early on some summer mornings, I would sit on the front porch watching people standing behind a tree of one of the houses doing some kind of transactions,” Anderson described.

Living in the neighborhood for more than 40 years, Anderson was estactic when two of the homes southwest of her house were demolished. She is hoping that another long-empty home directly across from her house also is torn down.

Using Moving Ohio Forward grant funds that the county received from the attorney general’s office, the city has torn down five York Avenue N.W. homes. There are still several boarded-up homes on the street, intermingled with well-cared-for properties in the neighborhood.

Those houses are among the 150 the city is tearing down using the $1.3 million made available through the fund. Warren provided $500,000 as the local match for the MOF demolitions.

The city, as of Friday, has torn down 98 houses and expects to demolish its 100th house sometime before the end of the week.

Although the state’s demolition deadline is at the end of May, Mayor Doug Franklin last year noted the city had given itself an end of February deadline to have all of the contracts for the demolitions completed.

Safety Service Director Enzo Cantalamessa said the city awarded all of the contracts for demolitions in October.

The majority of the contracts were given to three firms, M&M Construction, Safe Air and Holeton.

“We are trying to complete the demolitions significantly before the May deadline because we’re trying to put the city in a favorable light when it comes to the Hardest Hit Funds.”

Ohio is one of 18 states to receive money from the Obama administration’s Hardest Hit Fund, created in 2010. The program primarily was designed to help struggling property owners keep their homes from being foreclosed.

Ohio is receiving approximately $375 million from the fund one of the three largest awards.

However, in August, the federal government agreed to allow the Ohio Finance Agency to use up to $60 million to tear down houses.

No decision has been made on how to divide the demolition money.

“We do not know when the money from the Hardest Hit Fund will be released for demolitions, but our goal is to show that we were efficient in administering the Moving Ohio Forward funds,” Franklin said. “We want to align ourselves favorably for any new money that may become available.”

Franklin credits Julie Green of the Trumbull County Planning Department for her work with the demolition program.

Sam Lamancusa, Trumbull county treasurer, said the county currently is about 85 percent complete with the MOF program and expects to have everything torn down and information turned into the state for reimbursement.

Lamancusa described Hubbard and Girard as nearly complete in the demolitions of houses in their communities. All other Trumbull communities, except Warren, have completed their MOF demolitions.

Girard Mayor James Melfi said the city provided a $25,000 local match to receive $25,000 from the MOF grant.

“We demolished five structures, including one fourplex, and are looking to tear down two more structures using the funds,” Melfi said. “We are awaiting asbestos removal before tearing down the final homes.”

Dan Tierney, a spokesman with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, last week said as the May deadline draws near an increasing number of counties are seeking reimbursement for the houses they have demolished.

Of the $75 million allocated, the state has reimbursed communities $38,743,351 for the $23,736,263.99 spent for a total of 7,860 homes demolished in Ohio.

Trumbull County, for example, qualified for $1,275,797. According to state records, the county has demolished 90 units and has been reimbursed by the attorney general’s office $432,292.51. The county has provided $334,261.51 in payments.

Records of some properties that have been demolished have not been sent through the attorney general’s office for reimbursements.

Mahoning County was allocated $1,531,680 and so far has received $1,153,611.69 in payments from the attorney general’s office for the demolition of 241 houses. The county has provided $799,245.95 for the demolitions.

Elyria demolished 74 houses using Moving Ohio Forward funds received from the Lorain County Port Authority, which operates the county Land Bank.

“Lorain County received $3.7 million from Moving Ohio Forward and we received a portion of that money,” said Kevin Brubaker, the senior manager with the Elyria Building Department.

Brubaker said the city began identifying homes to be torn down in October 2012.

“We looked at vacant and dilapidated properties, as well as properties which we identified as public nuisances,” he said. “We notified the property owners the city had problems with the properties. We then sent members of the city’s health, fire and building departments to inspect the properties to determine if, based on our codes, they should be demolished. The city’s law department sent new letters to the property owners.”

Demolition usually began within 60 days of notification being sent to the property owners.

“The first of the houses were torn down on Jan. 10, 2013,” he said. “We kept going until August, when we were told by the county that the Moving Ohio Forward funds had dried up. The last house was taken down on Aug. 12.”

The city’s initial goal was to demolish 50 properties using the MOF money.

Brubaker said 95 percent of the houses had asbestos in them that had to be remediated.

Elyria, like Warren, is an old manufacturing community trying to find its way into the future. It had General Motors and Ford car plants and other industrial plants. It has a population of about 56,000 people.

“Moving Ohio Forward has made a significant difference,” Brubaker said. “We had one street, for example, that had seven houses on it and we took down four of them. On many streets that we took down houses, owners of other properties began fixing up their homes. I don’t know whether it was because of fear we might go after them or new-found pride in the neighborhoods.”

In addition to using the MOF money to demolish some houses, the city also used Neighborhood Stabilization Program money to demolish more than 30 additional houses in 2013.

Lorain’s Deputy Safety Service Director Leon Mason said the city was able to demolish more than 100 properties using MOF money. Like Elyria, Lorain received its funds through the Lorain County Port Authority’s grant.

Lorain used up its allocation of funds in October. It established a demolition board that recommended houses that had numerous housing code violations.

“We had some houses that were leaning to their sides, roofs falling in and front porches that were collapsing,” Mason said.

A community of about 64,000 people, Lorain also is a former manufacturing area that has seen better economic times.

At the same time Lorain was doing the Moving Ohio Forward program, city officials decided to do a complete inventory of vacant properties.

“We did not use the inventory for the MOF demolitions,” Mason said. “It will help us moving forward. We know what properties to target if more funds become available through the Hardest Hit funds.”

The city’s housing stock is older, with many properties more than 70 years old. Through the survey, the city has identified another 266 vacant properties in such condition that they are targets for future demolitions if additional money becomes available.

“Moving Ohio Forward has had a significant impact on our community,” Mason said. “We were able to eliminate a lot of vacant homes that were used for crime and were fire targets. The elimination of the houses also has beautified our neighborhoods and has helped us, because it is easier to cut lawns of vacant properties than to try to keep abandoned homes boarded up.”

Warren residents James and Christina Aken had two fire-damaged homes next to their York Avenue property torn down.

The couple, with two small children and a third on the way, said that over the 2 1/2 years since they purchased their home they’ve heard people in the fire-damaged properties stealing whatever they could.

“We have two large dogs, so they bark anytime someone comes around our property,” James Aken said. “Now that the houses are down, we want to purchase the vacant lots so we can build an extension and a garage.”

“It is cheaper to add an addition for $20,000 than to buy a new house for $100,000,” he said.