Reprinted with permission from The Business Journal
Neighborhood Improvement Corps Helps Those Who Help Themselves

Oct. 24, 2006

By George Nelson


Cathy Hupp made extensive repairs before she was cited.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Cathy Hupp was scared when, less than a year ago, the city’s housing department cited her for code violations. “I didn’t have the money” to get the exterior painted, said Hupp, who has lived on Lucius Avenue for 15 years. “I told them I needed a little bit more time.”

Hupp, who works as a dietary aide at St. Mary’s Alzheimer’s Center in Columbiana, told authorities she had recently replaced the roof and gutters on her house and re-roofed the garage, plus had the steps repaired and the trees trimmed.

“That was a significant investment on her part,” recalled Maureen Farris, president of the Neighborhood Improvement Corps, a nonprofit organization created through the Youngstown Municipal Housing Court to help homeowners bring their properties into compliance with the housing code. “She really wanted to do it; she was just financially unable.”

The Neighborhood Improvement Corps stepped in after Huff contacted First Ward Councilman Artis Gillam, who put her in touch with the group. Huff applied for assistance, expecting to be on a waiting list for years. Then she got a call from Farris saying that she would pay a visit.

“She had seen I made a lot of improvements, which is what we were looking for – somebody who was trying,” Farris said.

City officials, housing enforcement officers and individuals involved with NIC joined Huff at a news conference Monday morning to showcase the repainted property and to call attention to the program.

A neighborhood survey conducted during the process of preparing the Youngstown 2010 plan identified about 1,000 homes that needed to be demolished, about 300 of which have already come down, said William D’Avignon, community development director. Another 3,500 were identified as needing repairs. He said the city adopted the administrative penalties section of the housing code to keep people out of court, increased penalties for “egregious violators” and reinstalled the housing appeals board.

The city has spent $1.5 million this year on demolition, which is one component of neighborhood development, said Mayor Jay Williams. “But another element of neighborhood development is making sure that we have adequate resources to provide for rehabilitation,” he added.

NIC paid $2,600 for scraping and repainting Huff’s home, Farris said. The paint was donated by Sherwin-Williams.

“We want to pick people out that deserve assistance, primarily through setting them up with other charitable and nonprofit organizations,” said Anthony Farris, city deputy law director and housing court prosecutor. Modeled on a program in Cleveland, the program is designed to assist homeowners during the administrative penalty process.

The program grew out of a housing task force that was convened by Municipal Court Judge Robert Milich, who presides over the housing court, with the help of 4th Ward Councilwoman Carol Remidio-Righetti and 7th Ward Councilman Mark Memmer.

“The task force realized early on that criminal court would not be appropriate for all cases,” said Jamael Brown, a member of the NIC board of directors. Some homeowners, due to age or physical disability, might have “tremendous” difficulty complying with the mandated work.

“This is just the beginning,” Milich promised. “There are a lot of resources in the community, and it’s just a matter of bringing them together and getting people involved.”


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