The city administration came to city council last week with a proposal that is kind of a no-brainer.
In order to fund the razing of abandoned homes, they want to raise the monthly sanitation fee residents pay from $14.75 to $24.75 over a six month period. To offset that, they would reduce water rates by 30 percent — the water fund currently has a $13.8 million surplus.
The average customer’s water bill runs about $30 per month. That’s a $10 increase and a $9 reduction for the average customer. It would generate $2.64 million annually, enough money to demolish 250 properties in a given year — they currently demolish about 150 homes per year.
Yet council is not sold on the idea.
Nate Pinkard and Annie Gillam suggested the city borrow the money, despite the fact that state law does not allow cities to borrow to demolish structures.
Janet Tarpley was quoted as saying her constituents ask her why they should have to pay for someone else’s property. They want to know why the banks and property owners aren’t taking responsibility.
Let’s ignore the fact that the net cost to the average constituent is going to be about $1 a month.
The benefits to reducing the number of abandoned homes falling into disrepair across the city should be pretty evident.
Studies have shown that abandoned homes frequently provide havens for prostitutes and drug dealers. They encourage vandalism and dumping — take a trip to the northeast corner of the city and you’ll find all the evidence you need. Crime rates on blocks with abandoned buildings are roughly twice as high as those on similar blocks without abandoned buildings.
The cost of increased crime is undoubtedly bore by the residents. If that was the only benefit of reducing the number of abandoned homes in the city, it would still probably be worth it.
But the prevalence of blight also greatly reduces commercial investment. The city is attracting commercial investment downtown, but until the neighborhoods are cleaner and safer, they are going to continue to suffer reduced investment.
This also has a real cost to citizens. It’s how you end up with neighborhoods lacking access to basic amenities, like a grocery store. The potholes and burnt out streetlights are a product of the reduced tax base.
This is something the city has been working toward since the Youngstown 2010 plan laid out its vision for taking the city from grey to green.
Between 2007 and 2013, over 3,000 houses came down. They were funded primarily by state and federal grants, but those revenue streams are drying up. The mayor estimates there are about 4,000 more abandoned properties that need to be taken care of.
The administration worked together and came up with a clever solution to address this problem on the scale it needs to be addressed. Current efforts are not sufficient. This would have a significant impact on the city in the short term and cost residents next to nothing.
The mayor has thrown council a softball. Let’s see if they can manage to realize it’s in their constituents’ interest to knock it out of the park.
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