U.S. Sen. Rob Portman joins Toledo mayor to talk about funding for demolition of abandoned homes

Sen. Rob Portman discussed his proposal, called the Neighborhood Safety Act
Sen. Rob Portman discussed his proposal, called the Neighborhood Safety Act", to take TARP funds that were initially designed to help people to avert foreclosures and to use it for demolitions such as this one throughout the state.

Ohio U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio) and Toledo Mayor Mike Bell together visited a North Toledo neighborhood to observe a housing demolition today and talk about the possibility of getting more funds for Toledo to demolish more abandoned homes.

Mr. Portman is the co-sponsor of a bipartisan bill to divert $60 million in foreclosure relief funds to housing demolition in Ohio where some 100,000 homes are said to be in need of razing. Senator Portman said U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) is a sponsor of the legislation in the House. There is still some $375 million that was earmarked in the 2008 Troubled Assets Relief Program law to mortgage relief in Ohio that has not been spent.

Toledo has about 3,000 homes that officials say should be demolished because they pose a threat to safety and property values. The city has taken down more than 1,150 homes in the last three and a half years.

The bill is delayed in part because of opposition from Sen. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), who believes less of the money should be spent on demolition and more on housing counseling and foreclosure prevention.

After the official comments, a powerful excavator operated by City of Toledo employees bit into the old house at 1847 Chase St., and in about half an hour had it leveled to a pile of kindling.

Neighbors of either side of the house - cousins Karen Austin and Priscilla Zaborski and their families - plan to buy the soon-to-be-vacant lot from the Lucas County Land Bank for $100, divide it in half, and make more room available for the children to play.

"We're excited," said Ms. Austin, 25. "People are dumping everything over there. It's just disgusting." She and husband Jonathan Austin have a 2-year-old son. They manage properties.

A neighbor living across the street, Barbara Monto, 57, said she was both happy and sad to see the house come down. She said she played in the house as a child, but in recent years it has become an eyesore.

Mr. Portman said he is aware of the Toledo mayoral campaign but said he was not taking sides in the political contest. A political independent, Mr. Bell has the unofficial backing of the Lucas County Republican Party, which has endorsed no one else in the race. He is opposed by Democratic Lucas County Auditor Anita Lopez, Democratic city Councilman Joe McNamara, and independent Councilman D. Michael Collins, and three others.

Contact Tom Troy at tomtroy@theblade.com or 419-724-6058.