Project provides HOPE for blight and families

NILES — A program in the city aims to clean up blighted properties while also helping struggling families purchase a new home.

Project HOPE — Home Ownership Provides Everyone Hope — a program run by the nonprofit group Avenue and Main, wants to combat the issue of abandoned or foreclosed properties that often end up demolished by taking foreclosed homes owned by the city and the Trumbull County Land Bank and refurbishing them, making the properties suitable for living in again, according to Niles Housing Inspector Jeff Crowley.

“There are about 80 homes in the queue that are being foreclosed for back taxes,” Crowley said. “We’ve done six demos just this year.”

Last June, approximately 50 volunteers from the community group Avenue and Main graded every property in Niles, then sent the results to Youngstown State University’s Regional Economic Development Initiative, which graded all the properties from an A to an F.

“It gives you an understanding of your inventory,” Crowley said. “It’s hard to come up with a plan if you don’t know what you have.”

The survey is being used for the redevelopment project between Niles and the Youngstown-Warren Regional Chamber, but it also gave Project HOPE a way to find which houses are available to refurbish. The group is starting with a foreclosed property at 205 N. Cedar Ave. donated by the land bank.

So far, the house has been gutted, with carpet, doors, flooring and debris removed. Renovation work, such as the installation of new roofing and windows, is expected to begin early next week.

To fund the project, the Cafaro Co. donated $25,000 if the group could match the donation, while Home Federal Savings and Loan donated $10,000. Local contractors will donate their time and services to renovate the house, with new heating, electricity and windows being installed. Carter Lumber donated $10,000 worth of material and a $16,500 grant was received from the Warren Area Board of Realtors.

Project HOPE is basing its strategy on the “broken window syndrome,” where if a homeowner lives next to a foreclosed house, they will be less likely to take care of their own property. But by fixing a property’s “broken window,” the surrounding neighborhood is more encouraged to maintain other properties as well, according to organizers.

All this work would be for naught if no one moves in afterward, so Project HOPE will sell the home to a family at 80 percent market value, with the remaining 20 percent being recognized by the bank as a down payment. For five years after the family moves in, the equity will decrease by 20 percent.

ddye@tribtoday.com

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