Our Towns

TNP Works to Eliminate Blight in Warren

Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+0Share on LinkedIn0Pin on Pinterest0Email this to someone

WARREN, Ohio — As he stands across the street from a two-story gray house on Scott Street, Matt Martin turns to look at the patches of grass and dirt on both sides.

“Thirty days ago, those were houses. Since there’s no backyard, we knew we’d have to tear down one of them to make a side lot,” says the executive director of Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership. “But they were in such bad shape that we had to tear them both down. The middle one was the only one salvageable.”

Inside, workers put the finishing touches on the house that, within a couple weeks, will be ready to go on the market. All the buyer will need to do is move in and maintain his new home.

The house is the organization’s second renovation as part of the adopt-a-home program, started last summer. Because the investment required of TNP, the program isn’t the preferred method, Martin explains.

TNP’s first choice, Martin says, is to save a house. If a house doesn’t need to be demolished, it will be sold as-is – which Martin says makes up “the lion’s share” of TNP home sales – or through adopt-a-home.

When houses are sold without work done by TNP, the buyer must come up with and present a renovation plan.

“He comes up with a work plan and we hold the title while he does the work,” says Shawn Carvin, manager of the Trumbull County Land Bank. “We inspect the house throughout the phases of their plan and at the end we transfer the title to them.”

The land bank, operated by TNP, manages properties bought by the organization.

The adopt-a-home program, begun last summer, offers buyers a chance to buy a full-renovated house with few strings attached. The only requirement, Martin says, is that the buyer must live in the house for three years after purchase.

Renovations are privately funded and “sold at prices that sustain the neighborhood.

“The budget may be close to $50,000, but the sale price might be closer to $40,000,” Martin says. “But we’re using privately contributed money so we can do what needs to be done.”

For many in Warren, Carvin adds, buying a house through the program is much more feasible than buying a derelict house and repairing it on their own.

“It’s more difficult to get a loan on a house that’s not move-in ready that needs to be rehabilitated,” he says. “It just makes it a little easier to get a loan for them.”

If a suitable buyer can’t be found – Martin notes that should someone want to rent a TNP house, he isn’t likely to be awarded the structure – only then is the next step demolition.

In 2013, the organization was awarded a $1 million grant through Moving Ohio Forward to raze houses around the city. Only seven groups statewide were given funding, Martin notes.

As a whole, most of TNP’s $560,000 budget comes from revenue its programs generate, but a large portion is provided by foundations such as the Raymond John Wean Foundation and the office of the Ohio attorney general, which provided the Moving Ohio Forward grant.

There are few outcomes after a demolition. The top priority is offering the newly open lot to neighbors. The only expense then is to repay acquisition costs taken on from foreclosing on the property, “usually a few hundred dollars,” Martin says.

To help offset that cost, TNP created the Side Lot Incentive Program, which awards lot buyers a $250 Lowe’s gift card to purchase tools to clean up the lot.

“It can be something as simple as a green space. They’ve also done landscaping, fountains, retaining walls or a Japanese-style garden,” Carvin says. “It’s whatever the homeowner’s interested in doing to the property.”

When no neighbor wants to take on the newly opened lot, then the fate of a lot is left to the public. They make proposals and, with approval from neighbors, plans are effected.

There’s no restriction on who can submit proposals, only that 10 people from the surrounding area must sign off on it. Those people, Martin notes, are usually the ones who will end up taking care of the lot, so the petitions are easily filled out.

TNP’s budget for each lot project is capped at $6,000.

Neighborhood groups have begun taking an interest in the lots, Carvin adds.

“Any neighborhood association can come to us if they’re interested in doing work. We’ll hold ownership of the property until whatever they build is finished,” he says.

Earlier this year, a group of architecture students from Kent State University put together ideas for some of lots TNP owns as part of a semester-long effort. Throughout the class, students traveled to Warren and met with residents to get their views on what their designs should be.

“The hope is that the students get to interact with the community while the community can get some ideas and discussions that they normally wouldn’t get,” says Wiley Runnestrand, associate director of advancement for Kent State’s college of architecture.

The result was five or six ideas for each lot size, all of which came in below the $6,000 cap.

“For our students, it gives them a chance to deal with real clients and real problems,” Runnestrand says. “In classrooms, you miss the true experience of being designer because you’re not interacting with a client about the problem.”

College students from Pearson The New School for Design in New York have also been in to develop designs for community gardens around Warren.

The work TNP has accomplished over the past five years is drawing attention. Mayor Doug Franklin says he recently signed off on a letter recommending the organization for a national nonprofit-of-the-year award. The city also helps TNP apply for grants and matches some of the grants it’s awarded.

“We’ve depended on Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership and they’re a big part of the plan. You need to have neighborhood development for revitalization and they’re very good at what they do,” Franklin says.

Even with all the work accomplished since 2010 – creating a complete housing inventory and the renovation or demolition of hundreds of houses – Martin acknowledges the scope of what lies ahead.

“Within the next few years, we’ll get through most of the demolition,” he says. “But what’s left in the wake will be with us for a long time, if not permanently.”

But what’s been completed to date is something the city should be proud of, he continues.

“There are hundreds of houses that needed to be demolished that are now gone. There are green projects that didn’t exist before. There’s home ownership in neighborhoods that hadn’t really seen that before,” he says. “There has been an increase in quality of life over the past five years and TNP has played a part in that.”

Pictured: Matt Martin is executive director of Trumbull Neighborhood Partnership.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.