YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – The City of Youngstown is planning to make some changes to its water and sanitation fees that will impact demolition efforts. But Ian Beniston, who runs the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation, is OK with decreasing the sanitation fee because he said it was never meant to be permanent.
Youngstown is considering raising its water rate by $10 a month and decreasing its sanitation fee by $10 a month.
The sanitation fee generates an extra $2.5 million a year for demolitions — so what happens when that money is eliminated?
Late last week, the old Rexall drug store building at Market Street and Indianola Avenue was demolished. It’s these kinds of demolitions — large commercial structures containing asbestos that require an outside contractor — that may be significantly reduced if Youngstown reduces the sanitation fee.
“The only thing we’re going to probably have to end up doing less of is our contract demolitions,” said Mike Durkin, demolition superintendent. “Roughly, we do a hundred a year but then we’ll have to cut back on that.”
The sanitation fee was increased in 2016, specifically to generate $2.5 million a year for demolitions — and it worked.
From 2014 to 2018, demolitions in Youngstown increased 59%. The number of vacant properties in Youngstown also decreased significantly, from 3,500 in 2016 to 1,800 last year — a decrease of 51%.
“There’s been, truly, tremendous progress, more so than any four- to five-year period in recent memory,” Beniston said.
He said of the 1,800 vacant properties still standing, about 1,200 need to come down, including three right in a row in the 600 block of W. Ravenwood Ave.
“We’ve been on a positive trend the past five years and I think all of us want to continue.”
Beniston said landowners need to be held accountable for their properties. He’s also hoping the state will allocate more money for demolitions.
But YNDC is also big on renovating houses, saying they don’t all need to be torn down.
“Part of that is the removal of blight but I think, equally or greater, is continuing to invest in our housing stock to preserve it to create quality space for people that are already living in it, but also to attract more people,” Beniston said.
Currently helping with some of Youngstown’s vacant properties are 10 AmeriCorps volunteers from Florida, Wisconsin, Oregon and Pennsylvania.
We found them Wednesday boarding up a vacant house on Hillsdale Avenue, two blocks from Fellows Riverside Gardens. They’ll spend six weeks in Youngstown, working with YNDC to board up about a hundred houses.
“I graduated from college with a degree in civil engineering and I realized I wanted to understand cities a bit better before I just jumped into that kind of work,” said Joshua Sherrer, from Pittsburgh, who just graduated from MIT. “So I wanted to approach that from the perspective of service.”
The volunteers will also be demolishing some collapsed garages.
Most of the work will be done on Youngstown’s west side.