Youngstown residents fight city to keep homes from being demolished

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – The Youngstown City Council meeting was full of passionate words Wednesday night as east side residents fought to keep the city from taking their homes and forcing them to move.

Council and those who signed up to speak at the meeting struggled to come to terms with an arrangement that everyone could agree on.

The East Side Urban Renewal Project will create an industrial park in the area, bringing new jobs to Youngstown. At the same time, it requires the city to buy and tear down several occupied homes, displacing nine people.

“At her age, she has to be in a place where she’s comfortable and we’re comfortable,” said Audry Tillis, whose 88-year-old mother-in-law, Bertha Tillis, is being forced from her home of 55 years on N. Lane Avenue.

Two weeks ago, council passed two votes to move forward with the project and change 21 acres from residential to industrial. The neighborhood is bordered by N. Fruit Street, Himrod Avenue, the Madison Avenue Expressway and Oak Street.

On Wednesday, Bertha’s family was given the opportunity to address council.

“She doesn’t want to go anywhere,” Audry said. “So if we take her somewhere, it’s going to be for her benefit.”

Audry has become somewhat of a spokesperson for Bertha. She said council should consider the impact leaving the home where Bertha raised her children will have on her.

“We agree with bringing jobs into the city, and it’s my understanding that city residents will have those jobs. We do not necessarily want to see my mother-in-law move. It’s a place where she has comfort and peace of mind.”

Two other Lane Avenue residents have the same uncertainty. Natarasha Gilliam says everyone on the street is a family.

“We do understand that the city wants to bring jobs, but we want to be happy, too.”

Badia Muhammad argued that those who lose their homes should get something in return.

“If this is going to happen and it’s going to bring jobs, then the people here should get a good amount of money.”

Council reassured residents that it is doing all it can to make the process as easy as possible.

“Really, we’re just in negotiations with them about what price is fair for the property they live in now, and then making arrangements for them to find or purchase a new property in some other location in the city,” Mayor John McNally said.

Youngstown City Council President Charles Sammarone said that both the property owner and the city have to be reasonable.

Over the last few weeks, the city has purchased up to 12 properties and demolished up to four of them.

McNally says he, alongside council, will continue to work with residents to find common ground under terms they can all agree on.