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Calling The Blade‘s Special Report on blight as a “real call to arms,” Councilman Jack Ford today introduced plans to create a Blight Authority, possibly within two weeks, to focus on reducing the amount of neighborhood trash, overgrown grass, and unboarded and unsecured homes.
During a news conference in city council chambers in One Government Center, Mr. Ford said that he disagrees with Mayor D. Michael Collins who said the city’s blight is not yet at a crisis level. The mayor is dead wrong, and the city does have a crisis in its housing stock, Councilman Ford said.
Saying he disagrees with the philosophy of Chris Zervos, the city’s director of inspection -- who said the city is experiencing the inevitable result of population loss -- Mr. Ford called for Mr. Zervos‘ transfer. Or, Mr. Zervos can get tough and kick up some dust to get people motivated and get jobs done promptly. If that were to occur, Mr. Ford said he would be Mr. Zervos’ “greatest champion.”
Blight was an issue raised during council candidates‘ campaigns last fall, and the topic has been discussed for about 18 months, but it‘s time, Mr. Ford said, to open a window of opportunity and tackle head on the blight crisis.
Other plans proposed by Mr. Ford include: expanding efforts to cut grass; working with municipal judges about the possibility of assigning neighborhood cleanup to community service participants; using annual unspent Community Development Block Grant funds to contract with neighborhood associations and associations such as Pathways, Neighborhood Housing Services, and the Friendly Center, and resurrect the Youth Entrepreneur Program that assigns young entrepreneurs with yards and fields in their neighborhoods; match preservation with demolition.
Mr. Ford said he has asked the Lucas County Land Bank chairman to approach Attorney General Mike DeWine for authority to put more money into repairing structures rather than earmarking the lion’s share to tear down houses.
To diminish the crisis, state policy changes are needed, Councilman Ford said, adding he would introduce legislation to streamline the city‘s inspection and legal processes.
To pump up man power available to handle matters related to blight, legislation is to be introduced to cross-train and use city workers who are non-inspector employees. Such action is necessary, Mr. Ford said, to address the crisis.
Mr. Ford said he‘s not sure if he could wind up in a “fight” with Mayor Collins, but said the season does not wait for politicians, adding that he cannot recall a time when Toledo looked this trashy. Conditions in some areas of East Toledo, for instance, are “terrible, just terrible,” Mr. Ford said.
Councilman Mike Craig said during the news conference that the city should move away from its complaint-driven system because it does not work. A more holistic approach should be considered, he said. Go into a section and clean that up by citing those who are responsible for problems causing blight, he said, adding it is irresponsible for the city to be behind in grass cutting to the point where areas with grass six-feet tall will only get cut once this season.
He said he cares not if someone gets cited, but cares about people who should be able to come out of their homes and enjoy their neighborhood.
Councilman Theresa Gabriel said blight exists in all six districts in the city. It is not isolated to only certain districts. Blight is occurring citywide, she said during the news conference.
Added Councilman Tyrone Riley: the discussion and conversation about how to address blight should take place and is long overdue. Every district suffers when houses are abandoned and grass is six-feet high. He said he looks forward to working to turn the situation around.