City’s Blight Authority holds first meetingWritten by Danielle Stanton | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A group of individuals aiming to battle Toledo’s blight met officially for the first time Oct. 2.
Led by Toledo City Councilman and former Toledo mayor Jack Ford, the 14-person Blight Authority elected officers and discussed several issues, from duties and responsibilities to possible forms of funding.
The Blight Authority plans to work to eliminate blight, encourage citizens to take responsibility for improving their neighborhoods and be a source of resources for citizens, among other powers and duties.
About a dozen members of the Blight Authority were in attendance at the meeting. Ford said in his 30 years of public service he couldn’t recall a committee or group in the city with as much “juice” as the group assembled.
“We have a lot of people who can make things happen,” he said.
Legal rights attorney George Thomas was nominated as chairman; Tony Plath of city District 5, vice-chairman; realtor Megan Meyer-Foos, treasurer; and fair housing representative Michael Marsh, vice-treasurer. Barbara Falls with the Toledo Housing Court, Dawn Comstock with ONE Village Council and Larry Vasko with the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department were selected as officers.
The executive committee selectees, who will meet bi-weekly in the beginning months, will need Mayor D. Michael Collins’ approval.
The Blight Authority expects to make an impact in the city, but not a serious dent until next spring, Ford said. With a winter predicted to be heavy and early, most of the abandoned homes and overgrown lots will be under snow before too long, he said.
“We’ll do some things this winter,” Ford said. “We’ll be full-tilt in early spring.”
The blight issue had been on the city’s to-do list before a series of Blade articles brought it into the forefront, Ford said.
“The call was, you need to do something about it,” he said.
City Council unanimously approved the creation of a Blight Authority in late July, declaring there is a need in the community for collaboration between citizens and city organizations and leaders to fight blight.
The Blight Authority is a “mechanism by which these leaders can come together, share ideas and collaborate” to help citizens maintain and improve their neighborhoods.
Ford, who said he was “punting” to the group, tossed out potential funding leads, including possible grantees, Lowe’s, The Andersons and local foundations.
One concern raised by Ford was about so-called “urban farms.” Ford said those areas where grasses aren’t mowed and houses are torn down can turn into potentially dangerous places. He said he’s witnessed young people walking through such areas and worried for their safety.
Toledo’s Blight Authority will be looking to other cities, including Detroit and Youngstown, for help. Comstock had a copy of Detroit’s inch-thick Blight Plan from 2014 and said she had a copy of Youngstown’s as well. Member David Mann of the Lucas County Land Bank said he knew the leader of Cleveland’s Vacant and Abandoned Action Council, who could be a resource for Toledo.
Retired Toledo resident Sy Kreais has lived off Lagrange Street for nearly 60 years and has witnessed many ups and downs of the neighborhood. He brought pictures to the meeting of dilapidated homes in a 35-block area. He said the formation of a Blight Authority is positive, but its first meeting was only a first step.
“This will be a great step for the city,” said Kreais, who said he mows 17 lawns and a park to cut down on overgrown grass. “But we have too much of a problem with vacant landlords.”
He said the city needs to enforce its codes and take care of the absentee and out-of-state landowners and irresponsible renters.
“You can’t do it overnight,” he said, “but you can’t sit on your behind and expect things to get done.”
The city is just getting started, he said.