Bill would replace funds

Program used to rid neighborhoods of blight set to expire

WARREN — The Neighborhood Initiative Program, used by organizations like county land banks to demolish blight-ridden homes to promote neighborhood stabilization and revitalization, is set to expire in 2020.

But there still will be numerous dilapidated houses, functionless factories and homes worth saving, fixing up and selling if the funds were available.

Officials with land banks in Trumbull, Mahoning and Summit counties on Tuesday stood in front of 366 Maryland St. NW in Warren — a little house with its roof falling in and surrounded by uncut grass in an otherwise well-maintained and quiet neighborhood — to offer support for a bill that would replace that funding.

The Clean Up Our Neighborhoods Act would create a grant program to be administered by the states to ensure funding for demolitions, maintenance and green efforts in the vacant lots, and money to rehabilitate homes that need work but are worth saving, said U.S. Rep. Timothy J. Ryan, D-Howland.

“This bill is what comes next because all of the land banks represented here today and most in the state are utilizing NIP dollars efficiently and effectively, but there is not enough to keep up. We are going to be left with more houses like this when the money is gone. So we need more funding to deal with the rest of the issue and some tweaking of the rules to allow for more job creation with the renovation of the ones that are salvageable,” said Matt Martin, executive director of Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership.

Ryan and U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-West Virginia, introduced the bill.

Ryan said although he is confident he will get some Republican support in states with blight issues similar to Ohio’s 13th District, he doesn’t believe the bill will pass unless the U.S. House of Representatives loses its GOP majority to Democrats in the November election.

Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, which administers the Trumbull County Land Bank, has spent about half of the $10 million in funds it has to complete demolitions, Martin said. Nearly 600 houses have come down in Trumbull County using NIP funds. There are about 1,500 vacant homes in Warren and 1,500 throughout the rest of the county, Martin said.

The house on Maryland Street NW is scheduled to be demolished within a month, Martin said.

With more money for rehab and maintenance, land banks could hire more people, and maybe triple the six-person crew TNP uses now, Martin said.

“This is a jobs program. You’re cleaning up your neighborhoods, putting people to work and giving young people an opportunity to be a part of their own community, cleaning up their own neighborhood. This has multiple benefits,” Ryan said.

The funding would help strengthen communities in Akron, Youngstown and Warren, said Patrick Bravo, executive director of the Summit County Land Bank.

“There hasn’t been any funding yet to address renovating properties that don’t need demolished. There are homes that we could put people in if we had those dollars to put toward renovation and also to go toward commercial and industrial property. When you think about the impact on residential neighborhoods of the decline in manufacturing, then look to see that there really hasn’t been any dollars to address the blight in the community that is left after a plant closes or a factory closes , what that does to the fabric of the neighborhood is really important and this bill would allow us to access funding to address commercial and industrial property as well,” Bravo said.

In Mahoning County, about 800 homes have come down with demolition funds, but there are a lot more that need to come down, said Mahoning County Treasurer Daniel Yemma.

“Neighbors around here shouldn’t be forced to look at something like this,” Yemma said, referring to the state of the house on Maryland NW. “We’ve done a lot of work, but there is a long way to go.”

Ryan said his staff will work with land bank staff around the district to further develop the bill and ensure there is funding for more commercial demolitions and more rehab projects.

rfox@tribtoday.com

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