YWCA Mahoning Valley Breaks Ground on Housing Project

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Taking a vacant home on a corner to create a livable, affordable home for those in need, the brick home at 3 Illinois Ave. has seen better days and will require extensive renovation work.

Leah Merritt, president and CEO of YWCA Mahoning Valley, said the project has been a couple years in the making and will fill an important need for more affordable housing options in the community on the North Side of Youngstown, just a couple blocks from Youngstown State University and Wick Park.

Built in 1910, the interior of the house was already deconstructed down to the walls and wood. New windows had been installed as the previous owner planned to renovate it, but it has sat vacant for some time. The plan is to create six energy efficient units in the building, including one that is handicapped accessible, while utilizing the current brick façade.

“This project will help eradicate some blight, increase safety and instill pride for the citizens who live in this neighborhood,” Merritt said.

She envisions the house potentially becoming home to college students unable to afford more expensive places at campus, families trying to find a home without breaking the budget, those getting out of homelessness and those with careers.

“As part of our mission toward equity, the YWCA offers permanent support of transitional, independent and affordable housing for low- to moderate-[income] and homeless individuals and families,” Merritt said, adding this latest project will be added to the three properties in Youngstown and one in Warren the YWCA already owns.

The brick home at 3 Illinois Ave. in Youngstown will require extensive renovation work.

With a price tag of $850,000 for the project, the YWCA is using gifts and assistance from the Mahoning County commissioners, as well as donations from MacKenzie Scott, the Edward M. Barr Charitable Foundation, The Ward Beecher Charitable Foundation, the John F. Hynes and Lorretta A. Hynes Charitable Foundation and the John S. and Doris M. Andrews Memorial Fund, a component fund of the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley. More donations will be needed to complete all phases of the project, including the renovations, the appliances and, eventually, solar panels.

“It takes a village to not only raise a child, but to redo a house, so we are very thankful to those funding partners. And as you see, we have a plethora of support countywide, statewide, hopefully, and local,” said Kristen Olmi, chair of the YWCA board of directors, noting this is the latest affordable housing project but certainly not the last.

The YWCA’s efforts to provide affordable housing in Mahoning and Trumbull counties grows in importance as rent prices increase. Although rent in the Mahoning Valley remains well below the national average, apartments.com reports even in Youngstown the average has increased by 3.16% in the past year.

“We know that rents have gone through the roof, so we’re very committed to continue to make this affordable,” Merritt said. “Housing is a social determinant of health, and by providing the basic of quality housing, families and individuals can succeed. We’ve seen lives change through these programs – families have been reunified, children are succeeding in school, adults have gone back to school and become nurses, welders and teachers through our programs, and some have gone on to buy their own homes.”

Breaking ground at the YWCA’s latest project at 3 Illinois Ave. are, from left, Annissa Neider, principal architect and owner of A. Neider Architecture; Lauren Mathews, board member of the YWCA; Kristen Olmi, chair of the board of directors of the YWCA; Leah Merritt, president and CEO of the YWCA; and Geno Leshnack, president and senior project manager at B&B Contractors & Developers Inc.

With original red brick, cement thick walls and wooden floors, the house was obviously well-built and has stood for more than 110 years – good bones as those who renovate historic homes might say.

“I love seeing the historic nature of this from an architectural standpoint,” said Annissa Neider, principal architect and owner of A. Neider Architecture. “New houses are always fun, but this presents more of a challenge.”

Added to that challenge, said Neider, who is taking the previous owner’s blueprints and making them into the YWCA’s vision, is the push by Merritt to make the home as energy efficient as possible.

“Kudos to Leah for taking that initiative, taking the next step to not only save this structure that obviously has sat vacant for many years, but you could imagine that this neighborhood was very significant in its heyday, and people and organizations like the YWCA are trying to reinvigorate these types of neighborhoods,” Neider said.

The interior of the house was already deconstructed down to the walls and wood.

Seeing about 40 homes in her 3rd Ward having to be demolished in the next eight months because they are a safety concern and cannot be renovated, Councilwoman Samantha Turner said it is important to partner with organizations like the YWCA to create affordable housing. Without housing, people cannot remain in or return to the North Side of Youngstown.

“This is even more special because we’re not just bringing affordable housing, we’re restoring a home here in our community, and these homes are great,” Turner said. “It’s great to have organizations that come in and see value in the homes. And the most green building that you can have is a building that is already built, so I’m very, very proud to see the YWCA taking on this venture and adding to the restoration that is happening all around the area.”

Pictured at top: Leah Merritt, president and CEO of YWCA Mahoning Valley.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.