Plan needed to combat Warren blight
There has been much conversation recently concerning blight and strategies to ameliorate it.
While a regional council of governments concept may help address some specific larger scale problems, it does not seem to be the right model to address day-to-day blight issues facing Warren.
The city has lacked a comprehensive, long-term approach to code enforcement for decades. Blight, litter and dilapidated abandoned structures are strewn about the city. The city has approximately 306 condemned properties and 264 properties slated for demolition. However, there are hundreds more not officially in the system. These are separate from the 300 properties that an agency contracted with the county land bank has demolished in recent years.
Currently, the health and zoning departments aggressively investigate complaints, both proactively and via citizen complaints. While the investigative process identifies derelict property owners and brings them before the board of health and court, there has been no noteworthy abatement of the nuisances on the back end. The city operations department, via codified ordinance 521.17, is authorized to clean up debris, cut grass and weeds, even demolish structures and place costs of such abatements as a lien upon property tax duplicates. However, herein lies the crux of the problem. The city does not seem to have a budget to have the operations department abate these nuisances. There should be a minimum of two to three crew whose mission would be to aggressively hit properties with debris and grass issues. This crew could also collaborate with neighborhood associations and non-profits to tackle specific projects. While the city maintains a contract with the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office to cut vacant lots throughout the city, it’s still difficult to keep up with the throngs of nuisance lots. The city should also explore utilizing military and Ohio National Guard for demolition projects. Youngstown recently entered agreements with the military that appear to be cost effective.
Warren’s general fund budget is approximately $28 million. If just 1 percent was appropriated for demolition and nuisance abatement, there would be $280,000 available annually and approximately 30 houses per year, (at an average of $9,400) could be demolished. In less than 10 years, most demolitions would be handled. However, more demolitions will enter the system.
While I’d like to see this budget doubled, I believe 1 percent annually is a reasonable and measured start. What a significant health, safety and aesthetic improvement this would make for the city! Good public policy regarding code enforcement has an externality of benefits including reduced crime, improved neighborhood pride and enhanced community development.