Rubble sometimes lingers long after homes torn down

New program may boost demolition

Neighbors on East Broadway in East Toledo say they have waited too long for a pile of debris to be cleaned up and taken away.
Neighbors on East Broadway in East Toledo say they have waited too long for a pile of debris to be cleaned up and taken away.

Carla Steelman and her neighbors on East Broadway rejoiced when the blighted house across the street was torn down.

They thought years of looking at an eyesore were over, but they weren't. Months later, a pile of rubble consisting of wood, bricks, shingles, and other debris from the demolition remains along the busy street on Toledo's east side.

“It's been about three months, and it looks like people are actually dumping more stuff there now,” Ms. Steelman said.

Tearing down vacant and blighted Toledo houses has been a priority for several mayors and other city officials. In most years, the city's goal has been 300 demolitions, but this year it could be more than double that under a program funded jointly by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, Lucas County, and the city of Toledo. The program's goal is to raze at least 900 blighted old houses over 18 months, though officials said the total could fall about 60 buildings shy.

City spokesman Jen Sorgenfrei said most houses removed under the program are razed and cleared away almost immediately — if their demolitions are planned.

“If it is a scheduled demolition, they do the demo and clear the debris away right way,” she said. “It is the emergency demos that cause the delay.”

That was the case for 721 East Broadway and other houses razed because they were collapsing or had been gutted by fire.

Ms. Sorgenfrei said part of the delay in clearing the site is waiting for gas and electric service to be shut off.

Renee Ford, a longtime East Toledoan whose 8-year-old granddaughter lives near 721 East Broadway, just wants the debris gone.

“I didn't expect them to leave the rubble there after it was demolished,” Ms. Ford said. “People had been calling for years to get the house torn down because someone took the supports off the front porch and it was falling down.... It went from bad to worse.”

The junk pile is unsafe, she said, and has become a haven for rats.

“It's bad when you have a vacant house that is falling apart, but I don't know if the pile of rubble is worse,” Ms. Ford said. “Now they are talking about tearing down two houses on Berry Street where I live, and if they do, will they leave the rubble there?”

Councilman Joe McNamara — who, along with Councilman Mike Craig, sponsored a budget amendment in 2011 to shift more money toward housing demolition — said there can be legal hangups in clearing the debris after a fire or emergency demolition.

“Obviously, if we tear something down, we want to remove it as soon as possible,” Mr. McNamara said. “Demolishing abandoned and dilapidated homes is good for promoting neighborhoods.”

Earlier this year, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine presided over the demolition of a house on Brewster Street in central Toledo that had stood vacant since 2007. It was the 340th to come down as part of the program. The money came from a national settlement reached in 2012 between mortgage-service businesses and U.S. state attorneys general over the “robo-signing” of mortgage documents that helped precipitate the 2008 mortgage foreclosure crisis.

For Lucas County, the attorney general’s office put up $3.7 million, which was matched by $3.2 million from the Lucas County Land Bank, chaired by Lucas County Treasurer Wade Kapszukiewicz, and $400,000 from Toledo.

Mr. Kapszukiewicz said the program is on track to complete 820 demolitions by year's end.

“The cost of asbestos remediation has been higher than forecast, so those costs will decrease the number of homes demolished,” he said. “That is still two and a half times more than ever [had been] demolished before.”

In 2011, the city demolished what was then a record 326 homes.

The Land Bank has the authority to foreclose on tax-delinquent properties. County records show the property at 721 East Broadway has unpaid taxes of $6,655.

— Ignazio Messina