Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation
Working together with hundreds of community residents, the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation is bringing comprehensive, holistic and strategic investments to transform neighborhoods one “model block” at a time.
Targeted “Model Block” Strategy Builds Confidence That Communities Can Improve
Over the past several decades, the population of Youngstown, OH has plummeted by 60 percent. Industrial job losses in this “rust belt” city were brutal. Combined with the recent recession, the mortgage crisis, and ensuing foreclosures, the end result has been visible decline in many city neighborhoods. “This city has 23,000 vacant lots and 4,000 vacant homes,” explains Presley Gillespie, Executive Director of Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation (YNDC). That sort of blight depresses both housing values and the human spirit and can inhibit private investment.
To address these significant problems, YNDC, launched in 2009, has adopted what Gillespie calls a result-oriented, strategic, and comprehensive approach. The idea is to mobilize residents and work on several different community improvement initiatives simultaneously in strategically selected neighborhoods. Unlike a scattered-shot approach of doing a little here and little there in many places throughout the city with little impact, Gillespie explains, this narrow-but-deep approach “enables us to show visible and incremental progress relatively quickly. That stabilizes the community and builds confidence. It shows home owners that investment in repairing and beautifying their homes is worth it–and it can help catalyze new business investment.”
YNDC’s creative efforts in the strategic Idora neighborhood on the city’s southwest side include:
- A Community Loan Fund to make available affordable mortgage loans to low and moderate-income home buyers;
- The “Lots of Green” vacant land reuse initiative in which YNDC and residents have so far cleaned up 213 abandoned lots, planted grass, and started several community gardens;
- The Artistic Home Board-Up campaign that creatively boards up homes with painted window scenes that make the homes appear lived-in;
- The Iron Roots Urban Farm, which has created jobs and begun addressing the community’s “food desert;”
- The Green Homes program, which thoroughly rehabilitates foreclosed and abandoned houses using green design principles and puts them on the market for resale to families at or below 80 percent of the median area income, and provides financial assistance to home buyers; and
- The “Paint Youngstown” program that offers exterior home repairs to owner-occupied residents at no cost to home owners. Repairs include roof repair, siding, painting, weatherizing, and other needed improvements.
Within Idora, YNDC has focused especially on the Lanterman Avenue “model block,” where it has rehabbed over 15 homes. “The goal of the model block strategy is to stabilize transitional neighborhoods one block at a time, ensuring that residents and property owners will have a long-term stake in the neighborhood,” says Gillespie. “Some of our houses have sold even before the renovations have been completed,” he adds. “That is unprecedented in any neighborhood in Youngstown.”
YNDC’s targeted strategy is working. Violent crime in the Idora neighborhood is down 55 percent from 2008 to 2012, and property crime has dropped 24 percent in the same period. At the start of YNDC’s efforts, there were over 200 vacant homes in the community and now there are less than 20. Home ownership is on the rise; ten new jobs have been created at the Iron Roots urban farm; and a national grocery chain has built a $5 million grocery store in Idora—the first in over a decade. “It’s all been made possible by putting residents at the center of our work,” Gillespie emphasizes. He says his dedicated staff at YNDC go far beyond the typical “9-5” job commitment and see their work as a mission. They and the 1500+ residents who’ve committed to taking back the neighborhoods have proven that positive change is possible.