EAST CLEVELAND, Ohio -- With more than 4,000 vacant homes plaguing the streets of East Cleveland, Mayor Gary Norton is hoping some newly allocated federal funds will help clear the way for new development.
The U.S. Department of Treasury has already approved more than $100 million in federal foreclosure funding to Ohio residents. Now local officials like Norton are pushing legislators to expand the use of these funds to cover vacant home demolitions.
"We'd love to be able to renovate them, but really there's not a market for that, so we like to tear them down so we can create larger developable sites to accommodate newer construction that might want to locate in this area," Norton explained.
Many abandoned structures pose health and safety risks with asbestos and other major structural problems. Norton estimates it would cost more than $2 million dollars just to clear a few blocks of abandoned buildings in East Cleveland without federal aid.
"I would love to see all of this rehabilitated and renovated if there were a market for that, but sometimes market conditions dictate that certain measures must be taken," Norton said.
Former County Treasurer Jim Rokakis, who is now the director of the Thriving Communities Institute, has been working for demolition aid in Washington for years. Rokakis is scheduled to meet with six congressmen Thursday and hopes his message will resonate with lawmakers.
"What we do know is that if we don't take them [vacant homes] down, it will cause that blight to spread and then it won't just be that neighborhood, it will be adjoining neighborhoods. It's like cancer," said Rokakis. "Either you wipe out the blight or it will consume you and your neighborhood."
If talks go according to plan and lawmakers give their final stamp of approval, Rokakis estimates funding for new demolitions could come as early as the end of this year.
"We have two bills in. Actually, there's a third bill that's introduced so we're trying to work out some of the differences, stressing to our congressional representatives that there's an opportunity here that they have to take advantage of."