Sen. Rob Portman hoping to free up federal funds to tear down abandoned homes in Ohio

CLEVELAND - In 2010, Congress set up the Hardest Hit Fund to provide $7.6 billion in help to struggling homeowners in the 18 states hardest hit by the housing collapse and the home foreclosure crisis, Ohio being one of them.

The only problem is the money can't be used to demolish the very properties that are bringing down the values of the homes around them. U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) is looking to change that.

Portman along with Representatives Marcia Fudge, David Joyce and Marcy Kaptur have introduced companion bills that would allow demolition to be part of the solution.

"The Cleveland folks came to me and said ‘Look we want to be able to access some of these federal funds that are going to the hardest hit neighborhoods for demolition,'" Portman said. "When you clear these homes out it helps reduce crime in the neighborhoods, they tend to be magnets for criminal activity including drug use and gang use."

"It helps the neighborhood to be able to get back on its feet, helps home values."

Helping make the case in Washington, D.C. is the story of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, the three Cleveland women found alive after being held for a decade on Seymour Avenue.

Portman pointing to the homes surrounding accused kidnapped Ariel Castro as an example.

"I understand that Ariel Castro's home was surrounded by abandoned buildings. I think four of the six houses around him were abandoned and the police and others have said that may be one reason that no one heard the screams of these girls and their cries for help," Portman said.

Portman is hopeful with a bipartisan approach and the fact that the funds are already allocated, they can get the Neighborhood Safety Act passed.

"People in the neighborhoods are ready to get these buildings down but you've got to have some funds to do it because they tend to be abandoned structures where the owners aren't taking responsibility."

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