Taking on the Housing Crisis, One Dwelling at a Time - The Business Journal

The executive director of Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership, Matt Martin, navigates around a large industrial dumpster in the driveway of 3824 Greenmont Ave. in Warren. The single-story house, vacant for nearly a decade, sits in a well-groomed, agreeable neighborhood in the southeastern quadrant of the city. “This was a situation where it was probably going to end up getting demolished if we didn’t act,” Martin says of the structure.

Instead, the organization acquired the property last summer from the owner for $30,000 and will have invested another $100,000 in renovations when the project is complete. Once the house is ready, it will be placed on the market at an as-yet undetermined price. “Our main priority is to get an owner-occupant,” Martin says.

The TNP project represents the rescue of a single house in a single neighborhood. Yet this rehab represents a step toward addressing a growing problem across the Mahoning Valley – the lack of sustainable, quality housing that ultimately could affect economic and population growth. It’s a looming crisis that business and development leaders have not ignored. Indeed, the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber has made repopulation its No. 1 priority, according to its president and CEO, Guy Coviello. “We took up growing population as our first priority,” Coviello recently said at a press event. “But as we started to go down that path, we quickly realized we don’t have enough houses for people. Growing the housing stock is right behind growing the population as top priorities in this community.”

Remaking Neighborhoods
In early January, contractors from American Pinnacle Construction, Youngstown, were busy laying new floor tiles at the Greenmont Avenue house. Should all go as planned, the property could come on the market by March. “This was vacant for years,” Martin says. “There were all kinds of wild animals and all kinds of stuff, raccoons.” In this case, TNP salvaged a house in a well-kept neighborhood that was in danger of being demolished. “It’s a high-quality renovation,” Martin says, noting the project accomplishes two critical goals. First, it helps to stabilize an already solid neighborhood.  Second, it adds to a thin housing inventory.

Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership was formed as a nonprofit in 2010 in the aftermath of a financial and foreclosure crisis that hollowed out neighborhoods and communities across the Mahoning Valley. In 2013, the organization assumed management of the Trumbull County Land Bank, which empowered it to apply for state, federal and other financial resources to tackle the problem of blight and property vacancies. Since then, TNP has raised millions of dollars that it has devoted to either razing dilapidated structures or initiating restorations on houses that could be saved, Martin says. In 2015, the organization received a $17 million grant earmarked for demolition of structures across the county. That grant expired last year. “We’ve done about 1,300 demolitions in Trumbull County and about half that many renovations in the decade-plus that we’ve been here,” Martin says. In 2014, for example, a TNP survey identified 1,532 vacant houses in the city of Warren.  According to a housing inventory update released in January, that number now stands at 432. However, the housing market has changed significantly – especially over the last three years, Martin says. “When we started doing this, many of the vacant homes had no value,” he says, which is no longer the case.  “Properties have value again.”

While demolishing unsafe houses is critical to stabilizing neighborhoods, it also presents an opportunity to redevelop these vacant parcels into landscaped areas, or perhaps new construction. In 2024, Martin says TNP plans to build a “handful” – his description – of new houses while encouraging additional private investment in the neighborhoods.“In some cases, it’s more cost-effective to build,” he says.

New Residential Efforts in Youngstown
The anemic housing inventory has squeezed not just potential homebuyers, but renters as well, observes Ian Beniston, executive director of Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp., a nonprofit community development organization based in Youngstown.

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