How to bring down the houses

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wedgewoodOne of Warren’s most daunting challenges remains the heavy presence of blight throughout the city. We’ve made significant strides in the last five years with the advent of the Trumbull County Land Bank, Trumbull Neighborhood Partnerships’ (TNP) management of it, and TNP’s great success in winning grants to bring down our worst examples.

It is vitally important that we stay the course. According to TNP’s citywide census of buildings we still have more than 1600 vacant houses, and several dozen vacant commercial properties; so the job is by no means complete.

If I become your next mayor I will create a Vacant Property Task Force that will include representatives from both in and outside of city government. Warren’s health and building departments are well equipped to deal with their share of blight-busting activities, but they are not funded or staffed to deal with the high number of vacant properties Warren was left with as a result of the combination of disinvestment and the foreclosure crises.

There are simply too many vacant properties for our city government to deal with alone. The money isn’t there. We need to get creative.

This is where groups like TNP, the Land Bank, MVOC, the Western Reserve Port Authority, and others come in. Each of these groups is already engaged in everything from policy and planning, to renovation and demolitions. We can get more from them through better coordination and cooperation.

I will support, synchronize, and streamline the efforts of these groups. Who knows how many opportunities for scale and efficiency are being missed by lack of communication? The city of Warren should be the leader of the group fighting blight in Warren, but it should also recognize that some of the potentially strongest weapons in that battle are held by other entities. We need to collaborate rather than keeping one hand tied behind our back.

As an example, TNP is currently working through $4 million in demolition funds they received through a grant they won for the county land bank. This is a huge coup for the city, as TNP has repeatedly been acknowledged as a top performer on a statewide level. However, the funding is limited to residential properties with fewer than four units.

If I were mayor today, I would not spend any of the city’s very limited general fund resources on residential demolitions outside of absolute emergencies that pose an immediate danger to public safety. All other residential demolitions should be left to TNP while they have the resources.

I would instead focus the city’s extremely limited resources more effectively by only demolishing commercial structures and larger residential buildings, starting with low hanging and affordable fruit like the Wedgwood Townhouses on Parkman Road, 379 Griswold or the Garden Street Apartments, none of which qualify for demolition under the eligibility rules of TNP’s grant. These easy opportunities for progress  would give blighted neighborhoods a shot in the arm, and residents a reason to be optimistic.

We would then rely on the collective power of the task force to find creative means to re-use or demolish larger sites like the old St. Joseph’s Hospital, or the former Packard Buildings on Dana. These problems will take major resources to fix. It is simply beyond the capacity of the city alone.

Two grossly underutilized tools the city has are foreclosure bonds and the vacant property registry. I will make them effective strategic weapons in the blight fight.

We should also not underestimate the power of “shaming” to make progress. This is the tool Councilman Eddie Colbert and I used to push the owner of Austin Village Plaza to finish the demolition of that building, and the tactic that I used while on the Resident Advisory Committee to get General Electric to at least remove the concertina razor wire that surrounded their demolition sites. I will use the mayor’s bully pulpit on more property owners.

Finally, we must also strive to have more private demolitions like the one Rossi Insurance recently completed at their own expense to remove a vacant and blighted building near their offices on High Street.

Strong partners, strong collaboration, creativity and a plan will be the keys to remediating Warren’s blight. These are things I will implement as mayor.

We can do better.

Posted Monday, September 21st, 2015 under Blight, Election, Vacant homes.

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