Homesteaders are ahead of the curve

The urban homesteaders who have already began repopulating the Historic Perkins Neighborhood and the newly dubbed garden district in Warren are setting an exemplary example for others to follow. What’s really incredible is that an earnest repopulation program has not even begun yet.

The handful of urban homesteaders, including some featured in Sunday’s Tribune Chronicle, have pretty much staked their claim independently. Most notable are Rebekah and Frank Ortzen-Abbott, who moved from London to Michigan to Washington Street in Warren where they rehabilitated two houses and some vacant lots into an inner-city oasis.

The Ortzen-Abbotts restored an old, fire damaged home, obtained vacant lots behind it where they have 36 raised garden beds and are soon going to plant an orchard of apple and pear trees and grape vines. There are several others who have restored previously vacant, run-down homes, some of which had been carved into multi-family rental properties.

One by one, homes are returning to their original architectural grandeur. One by one, those that are beyond salvaging are being razed and the vacant lots turned into something attractive – a flower garden, a grassy expanse, a barley farm, decorative cornerstone markers, even an hand-carved arch representative of one from Far East lore.

Still to come is a concerted effort by the philanthropic group Trumbull 100, the nonprofit Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, gregg’s gardens, northeast Ohio’s Fund for our Economic Future and the City of Warren. Those organizations and others who are jumping on the bandwagon will soon mount an all-out program to repopulate the Perkins Neighborhood and garden district. They held an informational and organizing meeting last week to gain momentum.

What Warren really needs next is for a reliable organization to take charge of federal money, such as Housing and Urban Development grants and loans, to assist with demolishing unsalvageable houses while buying, rehabilitating and reselling salvageable ones in a strategic, efficient and transparent manner.

Also, two potentially key partners – the Warren Police Department and Warren City Schools – were noticeably absent from last week’s repopulation summit. Mayor Doug Franklin spoke about safety, but hearing directly from police Chief Eric Merkel would be better, as would a detailed plan on how the force could provide an important presence. The largest deterrent to attracting more urban homesteaders is crime, so a visible combination of foot, bicycle and cruiser patrols would help the effort.

Some of the urban homesteaders who have already staked a claim in the targeted neighborhoods have children. Harding High School sits at the edge of the garden district. Warren City Schools, trying to reverse a shrinking enrollment, should be a partner in the cause.

What has happened already is remarkable. Clearly, the rate of progress is about to speed up. This renewed interest in the Trumbull County seat is truly exciting.