STEUBENVILLE - Domenick Mucci can look out his sixth floor window in the Ohio Valley Towers and see several vacant dilapidated houses that may qualify for a demolition program announced by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.
But before an official application can be made to secure the $277,274 allotted to Jefferson County, Mucci has to wait to see if the Jefferson County Regional Planning Commission will serve as the county's lead agency for the program.
DeWine announced late last week a set of guidelines for local communities interested in applying for the $75 million in demolition grants to help stabilize and improve communities by removing blighted and abandoned homes.
The funds, according to a press release issued by DeWine's office, are from the national mortgage settlement reached earlier this year by the attorneys general with five of the nation's largest mortgage servicers over foreclosure abuses, fraud and deceptive mortgage practices.
DeWine included Steubenville in a February series of public appearances and stood in front of a dilapidated house on North Eighth Street when he announced the settlement.
"One of the biggest things holding us back from moving forward is the vast number of abandoned and vacant homes littering Ohio. They are a blight on our communities, rotting them from the inside out. It is time to help liberate our neighborhoods from this menace. It is time to free our citizens from the weight that is slowing our state's recovery. We will allocate $75 million to help rid Ohio of the blight that is paralyzing our communities. This is $75 million to tear these houses down. This is $75 million to give Ohio a chance," said DeWine during his February press conference.
"We are creating a new matching grant program to provide much-needed funding to help free our neighborhoods. As Ohio attorney general, I believe we have an obligation and a moral imperative to help stabilize the value of the homes that remain occupied in these dying neighborhoods to give them a fighting chance to survive," DeWine said in February.
Mucci said the finalized guidelines require a matching grant for awards of more than $500,000.
"We are here to help. We want this money to go as far as it can. We won't be able to knock down every dilapidated house in the state but this money will help. I am an optimist. I see these neighborhoods coming back. I guarantee money is coming to Steubenville," DeWine said at his February press conference.
"We will not have to provide a matching grant in Jefferson County. So first we have to determine who will serve as the lead agency in applying for the grant. If it is the Regional Planning Commission, I will work with Steubenville and Toronto and all of the villages and townships in the county to reach a consensus on how the $277,274 will be divided up," said Mucci.
"Looking at the total amount awarded to Jefferson County you have to consider the required asbestos and lead paint inspection, title searches on the properties, bid packages for demolition contractors and paying the contractors who do the work. That means we will probably be looking at 30 to 35 homes to be demolished. And if asbestos is found and has to be removed, the cost of a particular project will go up," Mucci said.
"That won't leave us a lot to address the needs throughout the county. But if we do serve as the lead agency, I will make sure we have a consensus and it will be a fair and equitable process," added Mucci.
"If this office proceeds with the application, I will need the blessings of our local governments. We will need cooperative agreements with our local governments. It will be a very challenging program. But our regional planning office served as the lead agency for six counties participating in the recent Neighborhood Stabilization Program. We do have experience in this field," noted Mucci.
"Attorney General Mike DeWine has set very aggressive guidelines for every county in Ohio to operate under. And we are all facing a June 30 deadline. Fortunately we already have a housing advisory committee in place," Mucci said.