Brown promotes aid to neighborhoods like Idora

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Brown promotes aid to neighborhoods like Idora

The Business Journal – At a vacant, condemned building on Glenwood Avenue just a few doors from the Youngstown Playhouse, its executive director, Mary Ruth Lynn, talked about the neighborhood as it was a half-century ago.

Lynn, who grew up in Boardman, recalled that her grandfather lived on nearby West Evergreen Avenue, and how she used to go to Idora Park, the South Side amusement park that closed nearly 30 years ago. Today she is a member of the Idora Neighborhood Association, the civic group that has taken a leading role in combating blight in the area.

“It was a beautiful neighborhood – safe, sound, secure and lovely to look at,” she mused. “To see it returned to that would certainly be a wonderful thing to me and those who have lived in the area all of our lives.” She stressed that three years ago she made a commitment to “be part of the solution here rather than taking off and finding a new place to go.”

Helping efforts to restore areas such as the Idora Neighborhood, which has been hailed as a model for neighborhood revitalization efforts, is among the objectives of legislation promoted Tuesday morning by U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, at the 1941 Glenwood address, an old bakery that other businesses subsequently occupied.

The Project Rebuild Act would allocate $15 billion for neighborhood stabilization activities including the rehabilitation and demolition of residential and commercial properties, and increase support for land bank programs. The objective is to build on the federally funded $9 billion Neighborhood Stabilization Plan, a program that Brown noted “has made a difference” in cities such as Youngstown, Warren and Girard.

Some of the funding would go to states for them to further allocate based on various factors. “Some of it will be competitively bid,” Brown said. “The legislation is written so that communities like this will benefit.”

Two elements must be in place for economic recovery to take hold in a community. While the Mahoning Valley has benefited, particularly in manufacturing, “We’re not seeing as much progress as we obviously need” on the other fronts, such as housing, he said.

“A vacant lot is more than just an eyesore,” the senator declared. “A vacant lot means the decline of property values for other homes in the area.”

Further, foreclosed and vandalized properties bring down the value of neighboring houses “and that’s obviously a terrible thing for the neighborhood. It’s a terrible thing for the city. It saps the life out of communities in far too many places,” he said. Too many homeowners who played by the rules have seen the values of their houses decline because of matters beyond their control, he added.

Brown’s bill comes at a “very pivotal moment in time for out city and our region,” said Presley Gillespie, executive director of Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp.

Because Youngstown, Warren and others like them in the Mahoning Valley have limited private-sector investment, “the most important goal that we have is to ensure that the average neighborhood resident once again has confidence, once again has faith, that buying or investing in their home or business is a safe investment,” he said. “We can’t do that if our properties are surrounded by blight or surrounded by vacant lots, vacant homes and vacant buildings.”

The Idora Neighborhood, which has seen “significant NSP funding” over the past two years, is “one of many neighborhoods that is starting to see a growth in the capacity of the residents to really take back their neighborhoods,” Gillespie said. More than 70 houses have been demolished, more than 30 have been repaired, rehabilitated or had other work done, and more than 150 vacant lots have been created, some used for urban agriculture, he reported. The efforts of the neighborhood helped to attract its first full-service grocery store, Bottom Dollar Food, in more than a decade.

“So we’re starting to see the results and the fruits of the money being leveraged, both public and private,” Gillespie said.

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