Our Towns

YNDC Breaks Ground on Three Helena Ave. Houses

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Construction equipment digging into the earth at the vacant lot at 4212 Helena Ave. marked the start of construction on three new houses there – the latest investment on the street, where Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. and its partners have completed or are finishing several renovation projects.

It’s a welcome sight for Barbara Norris, who has lived all of her 63 years on Helena Avenue in the Handel’s Neighborhood. She has “put so much money into [her] house it’s unreal,” and hopes YNDC’s investment will spur her neighbors to clean up their properties.

Norris also supports YNDC’s efforts to bring new people into the neighborhood, “as long as we get good people in the houses and not riffraff.” She joined civic, business and community leaders for the groundbreaking Thursday morning.

Construction of the houses represents the culmination of years of work in the Handel’s Neighborhood on the city’s south side, but not the end of work, said Ian Beniston, YNDC executive director.

“There’s still more work to do in this neighborhood and on the street,” Beniston said. 

Work began five years ago on a neighborhood action plan, Beniston said. Discussions involved neighborhood residents, city officials and representatives of the Mahoning County Land Bank. The Land Bank acquired eight properties of the street, some of which YNDC renovated and others the Land Bank had demolished. 

“Once we got to the point of the land bank demolishing the properties, we thought this is too strong of a street and a neighborhood to allow this many vacant lots on the street,” Beniston said. “We want to preserve the fabric and the density of this street, and we want to put houses back and repopulate the street and the neighborhood and restore that density.”

“We’ve collaborated in a lot of ways over the last decade, and the collaboration is just getting stronger,” said Debora Flora, executive director of the Land Bank. 

Debora Flora, executive director of the Mahoning County Land Bank, joined YNDC’s Ian Beniston, Tiffany Sokol and Tom Hetrick at the groundbreaking.

After performing demolition in the neighborhood, knowing YNDC “is coming in with new construction that will reflect the character of the homes that are here, that will respect the history of the neighborhood, I couldn’t be happier to have that association and am very grateful for that outcome,” she added.  

The project wouldn’t be possible without Flora and the county land bank team, Beniston said. “They’re the vehicle that has been able to acquire properties, demolish the houses and then transfer the land to us so that it can then be reused.”  

Funding for the new houses is being provided by a $750,000 grant from the Federal Home Loan Bank of Pittsburgh. PNC Bank will provide bridge financing during construction and is supporting renovation projects in the neighborhood, said Ted Schmidt, PNC Bank regional president. 

“We believe that the success of our community really starts with making these communities vibrant, great places to live and work,” Schmidt said. “Rehabilitating this neighborhood and putting a couple of houses in here is just a step in the right direction.”

Ted Schmidt, PNC Bank regional president, said rehabilitating the neighborhood and building new houses is “just a step in the right direction.”

GreenHeart Homes in Boardman will build the three Cape Cod-style houses on the Helena Avenue lots. Faniro Architects, Youngstown, is administrator for the contractor. 

The houses will be just under 1,200 square feet and have three bedrooms, two bathrooms and an open concept floor plan, said Frank Rulli, architect with Faniro Architects. 

“What’s really important is they wanted the exterior of the house to match the early 20th century character of the street,” he said. Other contemporary features intended to appeal to both a younger market and a more diverse market are a first-floor bedroom and exterior access ramp for people with disabilities. 

 “It’s really good for the city,” said Brent Holbrook, GreenHeart new homes division manger. As a student at Youngstown State University 25 years ago, he envisioned new housing being developed in the city, he said.  

“These are going to be the nicest single-family homes built in the city in a long time,” Beniston said. 

Beniston said he expects the new construction to increase maintenance standards in the neighborhood. YNDC already has rehabilitated two houses on the street, and is in the process of doing a third plus rehabilitating an apartment building, he reported.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.