The Trumbull Neighborhood partnership (TNP) is a not-for-profit organization that has been in Warren, Ohio since 2012. They are a dedicated community organizer, working to revitalize their northeast Ohio Rust Belt community. This case study details the successes and challenges of maintaining affordable housing and health in post-industrial cities through the experiences of TNP.
Warren, OH, like many post-industrial cities, experienced tremendous growth and prosperity throughout the 20th century with the introduction of manufacturing. The “economic decline, population loss, and urban decay” that define a rust belt community started in 1978 with the closing of the first steel mills. This triggered a population drop from 63,494 people at the highest in 1970 to 40,768 in 2010. A lack of employment opportunities has forced families to move out in search of a livelihood, leaving many late 19th and early 20th century homes vacant. Warren includes 1500 vacant homes and several thousand vacant residential lots. These derelict houses pose a multitude of threats to the community including: the obvious aesthetic; the lack of maintenance to the house and yard leading to ruin and overgrowth that provides a home for vermin and animals; the accessibility that nurtures criminal activity including drugs, prostitution, vandalism, and arson; and a dramatic decrease in the property values of surrounding, occupied and well-kept properties.
TNP understands that rebuilding a city while maintaining its affordability requires a broad network of support from community members and organizations; the city, county, state, and federal governments; local businesses; and innovative thinkers from within the community and without. TNP facilitates a number of examples of alternative approaches to city revitalization, beginning with demolition or new ownership of vacant housing stock through the management of The Trumbull County Land Reutilization Corporation (the Land Bank.)
Post-industrial housing stock is abundant, but often contains historic toxic materials that are expensive to combat. Homes built in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s contain materials that are now known to be hazardous. Asbestos, used in insulation, flooring, plaster, and roofing tiles has tiny fibers that when inhaled are linked to several fatal lung and body conditions. Lead, a metal known to have adverse effects on humans since as early as 150 BC but used widely in the production of paint and pipes until the late 1970’s, lives on in dust, paint chips, and soil. Lead toxicity leads to behavior problems, severe developmental delays, and hearing loss. These homes also contain outdated technology such as knob and tube electrical wiring, requiring updates to safely prevent fire. Remediation, abatement, and updating are expensive and challenging processes for which little financial assistance exists.
For those who are ready for homeownership, vacant homes available through the Land bank can be a more affordable option than renting. This affordability, though is more complex than just a shift from a rent payment to a cheaper house payment. With older housing stock, long-distance work commutes, and historic health and safety concerns, post-industrial cities form a complex but not unachievable formula for healthy, affordable housing.