Why can’t Youngstown redevelop its downtrodden neighborhoods the same way Philadelphia has?
Willy Staley asks Youngstown Community Organizer Phil Kidd this question in the latest issue of Next American City.
“The most straightforward, and obvious problem for cities in decline is the way that the Department of Housing and Urban Development doles out its funds,” Staley writes. “The grants are not competitive; cities must apply, but the size of the grant is determined by a formula.”
The formula is weighted by population, so as Youngstown bleeds population, its HUD money shrinks as well. Meanwhile, the destruction caused by vacancy and abandonment cries out for attention.
“CDBG is our lifeline,” says Kidd, “and we’re experiencing population decline and trying to plan accordingly for that but it requires a lot of planning and land use strategies, demolition…all these things that are not proportional to population.”
Worse, in cash-strapped cities like Youngstown, Community Development Block Grant dollars are often tapped to fill holes in the general fund budget.
The most recent community development money infusion, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (a program of the economic stimulus package), capped the allowable portion spent on demolitions at 10 percent. This presents another obstacle in a city where vacant houses are driving neighborhood abandonment. Kidd says while local community development officials have been struggling to stabilize one neighborhood, another has been hemorrhaging population at a rate of 435 percent.
As a solution, Youngstown’s Congressman Tim Ryan has been championing the Community Regeneration, Sustainability and Innovation Act, which would make federal grants available to communities with innovative solutions for the problem of widespread vacancy and abandonment.
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