Churches, agencies partner to develop South ToledoWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
A kid, sunken into clothes at least three sizes too large, walked alone Saturday morning down an alley between two houses that leaned painfully toward the earth.
Just up the block, groups of volunteers holding clipboards canvassed his South Toledo neighborhood, logging to what extent gutters, paint, foundations, windows and other furnishings needed help.
Pastor David Kaiser, who runs the South Toledo Community Center at the New Kingdom Baptist Church on Broadway Street, estimates that at least 1,000 homes in this kid’s neighborhood lie vacant.
He said this particularly becomes a problem when you have a derelict house, like one on Crittenden Avenue, marked too dangerous for firefighters to enter if it catches fire sandwiched between two homes in which families live. Or when you have a little girl living in a house on Thomas Street surrounded by abandoned homes now frequented by drug peddlers and prostitutes.
Millions of federal, state and local dollars are available that could help repair the salvageable houses and demolish the goners. But organizers need hard data to bring those dollars here. The volunteers holding clipboards took the first step in that direction on March 24. Most of them were University of Toledo students, deployed by 1Matters, Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS)/NeighborWorks, the South Toledo Community Center and other players.
The next piece will fall into place this summer, when volunteers will go door to door to interview residents about their community’s needs. Data will then be compiled and shipped off to secure loans and grants. The goal is to know exactly what needs fixed and what needs torn down.
A similar program has already worked in another Toledo neighborhood. NHS/NeighborWorks conducted surveys in the Birmingham neighborhood and procured a quarter of a million dollars in low interest loans for low-income families to fix up their homes. NeighborWorks America awarded the grants last fall, said Bob Krompak, an economic development specialist with NHS/Neighborworks.
“This neighborhood needs a lot of love and a lot of help but there are still a lot of viable businesses,” Krompak said.
Lourdes Santiago, director of the city’s department of neighborhoods, said the area has been neglected for too long.
Evidence is in the rows of cracked foundations, the peeling paint, the duct tape and plastic trash bags that pretend to be window panes. Or it’s in the boarded-up doorways, signs aggressively mandating “KEEP OUT” and the graveyards for old toys laid to rest among trash heaps and corroded metal fencing.
There is a cavernous hole in the concrete at the end of the alley that leads from Kaiser’s church. A single orange barrel, contorted and scuffed, crouches near the hole’s edge. Kaiser wonders if it’s only a matter of time before a child climbs in to explore and gets stuck somewhere in the netherworld beneath the street.
Folks living on the 600 and 500 blocks of Walbridge Avenue — the few who haven’t left or been foreclosed upon — had grown accustomed to the half-demolished Jones Jr. High building off Broadway Street. Its skeleton stood for more than a year before demolition picked up again just within the past couple of months.
Down the road, a gutted elementary school on Newbury Street had become part of the landscape up until just a few weeks ago. Now the structure is completely gone, the land covered with a smooth coat of dirt.
Change in scenery
Santiago stood up before a group of South Toledo residents during a community meeting March 27 and told them things are soon to change.
“Rather than a neighborhood that has been neglected, you are now a neighborhood that is at the top of the list,” she said.
The gaping pit that was once Jones Jr. High, for example, will soon be open land. Santiago said Toledo Public Schools is giving the city first dibs on the property. And the city’s looking to turn that space into a commercial garden, she said.
The Lucas County Land Bank, which seeks to remove blight by acquiring vacant homes and slating them for demolition, is working on a few properties in South Toledo. But the projects are about to multiply. The land bank is eyeing $5 million to $10 million that the area could secure because of mortgage settlements through the attorney general’s office. The grant program might allow the agency to tear down between 1,000 and 1,200 properties across the city over a two year period.
To put that in perspective, the City of Toledo tears down about 300 to 400 properties a year, said David Mann, the executive director of the land bank.
One of the bank’s biggest challenges is finding fresh data, so programs like the South Toledo housing survey help direct the agency to problem areas, Mann said.
Kaiser and his Broadway Corridor Coalition, a group of churches, government agencies, individuals and ministries, seek to have one house built for every two taken down. Mann said demolition is going to be the priority for removing blight.
“We certainly have more houses than we need in the City of Toledo,” Mann said. “The reason we have a lot of abandoned houses is not just because of the housing crisis — we have a lot of folks who have moved from Toledo and moved out to the suburbs.”
Toledo enjoyed population growth from 1940 until 1970, reaching about 383,800. But by the 1980 census, population had declined to 354,635. The trend continued; 287,208 residents were recorded in the 2010 census. Just 10 years prior, the census had recorded 313,619.
Not the End
So do all of these upcoming demolitions mean job opportunities?
That’s Kaiser’s goal. His church serves free breakfast a couple times a week. Starting at 8 a.m., prostitutes, ex-cons and pimps are among those gathering around hot trays full of bacon and eggs. They are tranquil and silent as they eat. Some share tables and others sit alone. They wear anything from dense cloaks to short shorts. Many of them sleep outside or in abandoned houses because they don’t have jobs.
The trouble is that many of them can’t get jobs. Their criminal records doom their job applications to the trash pile. Kaiser wants to find them work. He knows many of them have construction backgrounds. So he aims to either get these people hooked up with contractors or form a contracting organization that could be used for upcoming demolitions.
Kaiser told the attendees at his community meeting that he’s consciously not calling South Toledo the “South End” anymore.
Because this, he said, is not the end.