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Describing The Blade’s Special Report on blight as a “real call to arms,” Councilman Jack Ford on Monday introduced plans to create a Blight Authority, possibly within two weeks.
Such an authority would focus on the unraveling of neighborhoods where heaps of trash clog alleys, where overgrown grass towers taller than a toddler, and where some sections of the city are plagued by unsecured vacant homes.
Mayor D. Michael Collins is dead wrong to say the city isn’t yet in a crisis when it comes to blight, Mr. Ford declared. The city is experiencing a crisis in its housing stock, said the councilman, who also called for the removal of the city’s director of inspection, Chris Zervos, because he said the director acts as someone who has accepted the blight.
SPECIAL REPORT: The Ugly Truth About Toledo
Mr. Ford, who held a news conference in city council chambers in One Government Center in response to The Blade’s blight-related stories and photographs published Sunday and Monday, said he disagrees with the philosophy of Mr. Zervos, who has said the city is experiencing the inevitable result of population loss.
If Mr. Zervos gets aggressive and achieves positive results, then Mr. Ford would be the director’s greatest champion and supporter, the councilman said. However, Mr. Ford noted that illegal dump sites do not happen because the city has fewer residents, but because enforcement is lacking.
Mr. Zervos did not respond to The Blade’s request for comment, but Mr. Collins said late Monday in a statement that he “does not intend to make any changes in staffing at this juncture.”
Blight — an issue raised during council candidates’ campaigns last fall — has been discussed for about 18 months, and it’s time, Mr. Ford said, to open a window of opportunity for action.
The new Blight Authority would be a public-private partnership and would provide ongoing support to empower neighborhoods and help make them sustainable, said Mr. Ford’s legislative aide, Kim Baker.
“People feel hopeless,” Ms Baker said.
A comprehensive plan needs to be created to give hope back to the residents, she said, adding the city has got to take Toledo back, neighborhood by neighborhood.
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Other plans proposed by Mr. Ford include: expand efforts to cut grass; work with municipal judges to possibly assign neighborhood cleanup to community service participants; use Community Development Block Grant funds to contract with neighborhood associations and associations such as Pathways, Neighborhood Housing Services, and the Friendly Center; resurrect the Youth Entrepreneur Program that assigns young entrepreneurs with yards and fields that need to be mowed in their neighborhoods; match preservation with demolition, and bolster the staff of the Toledo Housing Court, using an increase in fines and block grant funds to pay for the cost to run the court.
Councilman Ford also said he would introduce legislation to streamline the city’s inspection and legal processes.
If the city lacks enough inspectors because of a shortage of funds, the city ought to cross-train city workers, Mr. Ford said, adding he’s not sure if he could wind up in a “fight” with Mayor Collins but said the season does not wait for politicians. Mr. Ford said he cannot recall a time when Toledo looked this trashy, and he said some areas of East Toledo are “terrible, just terrible.”
He recalled when he was mayor, he toured the city, noting “WH” places, shorthand for a “wild house” with high grass and piles of trash. He would contact his demolition chief and tell him to get the grass cut and the trash picked up.
Drive through blighted neighborhood after neighborhood; people cannot enjoy being out on their front or their back porches, Mr. Ford said. “Who wants to look at that crap?”
Other council members took part in the news conference as well.
Councilman Mike Craig said that it took an hour for him to drive through a third of East Toledo, and in that time, he had several pages of notes of issues to address.
Toledo should move away from its complaint-driven system because it does not work, Mr. Craig said. Rather, a more holistic approach should be considered.
Calls to The Blade since the Special Report was published indicate support for Mr. Craig’s recommendation.
Please help, residents ask.
One resident, with a weepy voice, said the city takes no action to resolve issues, no matter how many times you call to complain.
Other residents said they have called the city repeatedly for years — yes, for years — to try to get something done about weeds taller than privacy fences, about illegal dumping of trash in alleys that block fire trucks responding to emergency calls, about people living in a basement of a house with a burned-out roof.
Several residents who contacted The Blade are angry and adamant: The city must get its act together. Toledo can no longer allow blight to unravel neighborhoods. As one resident put it, “someone needs to get off their rump.” Enforce laws. Get people involved. Return respect for property.
Some residents Monday said they stay indoors because rats and raccoons paw through illegally dumped trash day and night in their neighborhoods. Fear of ticks in tall grass keeps others residents indoors during the summer.
Councilman Theresa Gabriel said blight exists in all six council districts in Toledo and is not isolated to only certain districts. And Councilman Tyrone Riley said the discussion and conversation about how to address blight is overdue. He said he looks forward to working to turn the situation around.
Contact Janet Romaker at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6006.