Bryan Williams moved into his home along a quiet section of the city - Vine Court - nearly 30 years ago. He remembers chatting with neighbors during a time when there was a collective effort to maintain properties for the good of the community.
Now when he peers directly across the street at a house located at 422 Vine Court, the 55-year-old resident sees a problem affecting communities throughout Trumbull County, the state and the nation - blight.
"When I moved in here, the man who owned the house took good care of it," Williams said. "He grew up in the house and it was a nice place."
Tribune Chronicle photos / Ashley Newman
Niles Councilman Ed Stredney discusses a vacant house at 422 Vine Court which has become a sore spot for neighbors. The property has fallen into disrepair as it sits in foreclosure.
About 20 years ago, the home was sold ... and then sold again ... and again.
Finally, the house was vacated five years ago before being foreclosed upon. It has sat withering away ever since.
"That's the story of this house," Williams said. "It's sad."
The home has become an eyesore, with a gutter hanging loose and a roof collapsing on itself.
"The families in this neighborhood all do work to keep their houses in order," Williams said while standing on his carefully manicured lawn. "It's just this one house. You look at this thing and it definitely has a dramatic impact on the value of all our houses along here."
According to City Councilman Ed Stredney, who represents the Niles' 3rd Ward, the story of 422 Vine Court has become all too common.
"The house is in one of those states where the owner is long gone and the bank has foreclosed while the thing falls into disrepair," Stredney said. "On top of that, the bank that foreclosed on this house is in North Dakota. They're nowhere near here."
Stredney said the city contacted the bank now in possession of the house six weeks ago about the deteriorating situation, but little action was taken.
"They had someone come out and cut the bushes," Stredney said. "Even if they wanted to replace the roof, they don't have an extra $40,000 or whatever amount it would take to do it."
Even if the house were deemed a public health nuisance and set for demolition, Stredney said each home demolished by the city costs taxpayers about $8,500.
"Right now, the taxpayers foot the bill for the houses that we tear down," he said.
Across the state, vacant homes and blight are becoming a problem which is all too common. The Blade newspaper in Toledo recently reported an estimated 100,000 homes in Ohio that could be demolished. In Cleveland alone, officials said last year that there were about 8,500 houses ready to be razed.
Stredney said Niles is dealing with a couple dozen homes fall into a similar category, creating blight in otherwise well maintained communities. Because of this trend and before the problem gets worse, he's looking to take action.
Stredney is working to propose a vacant property resolution which would require owners of vacant properties being foreclosed on to obtain a $10,000 bond. The money would be used by the city in the event of the house falling into disrepair for upkeep or, in the worst case scenarios, demolition.
Similar legislation has already been passed and gone into law in Warren and Youngstown. Warren City Council passed the legislation several months ago.
"Warren is just starting their program out," Stredney said. "We're kind of watching to see what changes they make and how things go over the next couple months, but we'd like to mimic our program after what they've done."
The sponsor of the Warren program, Councilman Eddie Colbert, D-7th Ward, explained the registry was primarily put in place to make those purchasing homes more responsible.
"The ultimate goal is for the property owners to take care of their properties," he has said.
To be sure, Stredney was quick to point out problems of blight are not nearly as bad in Niles as in Warren, but the taxpayer money still adds up.
"Since 2000, we've torn down almost 200 homes," Stredney said. "We're in two different leagues with Warren and Youngstown, obviously. However, that's thousands of dollars out of our pockets for each of those 200 homes, and there are plenty more that don't get done because we just don't have the money."
A draft for a Niles version of the legislation is already basically drafted, according to Stredney.
"We'll probably have another couple more public meetings on the matter," Stredney said. "I'd like to have something in place by the end of spring at the latest."
This was music to the ears of Williams and other neighbors nearby.
"It's encouraging the city is taking steps," Williams said.
Chuck Johnstone, who has lived catty corner to the vacant home on Vine Court, said that while he's happy the city is taking steps to remedy the problem, the banks should be held responsible for foreclosed homes falling into disrepair.
"It's neglect, plain and simple," Johnstone said. "These out-of-state banks have no regard for the neighborhoods or the house at all. I think the city should have some way of going after the banks to tell them, if this is what you're going to do to our neighborhoods, we're going to fine you.
"But, the city of Niles is doing a good job of trying to get rid of the blight. They're trying, but it's an ongoing issue and it is getting out of control," he said.