Thursday, December 9, 2010

Improving Our Neighborhoods, One Apartment at a Time

When we met up by the front door to the WYSU studio, Maureen O’Neill commented that she thought that the two of us had a similar philosophy.  I wasn’t quite sure what she meant, though, of course, one of the reasons I’d invited her in is that I think the project she works on – registering and inspecting rental properties in the City of Youngstown – makes a positive difference.  As we talked, though, I think I started to see what she meant.  Maureen believes that Youngstown has potential, despite all its problems.  She believes that improving living conditions in our neighborhoods is an important element in helping us achieve that potential.  She understands that information, such as a database listing rental properties and their owners, can be a useful tool for organizing for change and addressing problems.  And she sees that no one part of the urban puzzle can solve all of the city’s problems; improving the conditions of rental properties is just one part of a larger set of efforts.  You can check out maps related to the program at YSU’s Center for Urban Studies website.

Perhaps most important, Maureen brings to her work an attitude that I admire and wish I could enact more often:  she believes that she can make a difference by talking with those who disagree with what she’s doing.  She brings humor to that task, but she also makes a real effort to understand and address the concerns of property owners and renters. 

As Maureen said in our interview, she needs your help.  If you own rental property, let her know and join the program.  Doing so can help you keep your tenants safe and contribute to the stability of the community, which will help you in the long run.  And Maureen truly is committed to working with you.  If you’re a tenant whose property has not yet been inspected, let her know.  Your property might not be in the database.  And if you know of rental properties that ought to be registered, call her.  You can reach Maureen O’Neill by email or phone, (330) 742-8833. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Wrestling with the Economy

I’m surprised to find myself saying this, but I think I could have spent another hour or two talking with economist Ken Beauchemin.  Part of that is about his attitude – imagine an economist answering questions about today’s tough economy with a big smile on his face.  OK.  That’s a little disconcerting.  What can anyone looking at the economy find to be happy about?  But that positive attitude does make asking basic questions less intimidating.  More than that, I appreciate Ken’s willingness to try to explain some key points of the “dismal science” to the rest of us.

But while Beauchemin is a nice and patient guy, I’m still troubled by much of what I hear from economists.  For example, having studied Youngstown’s economic struggles for the last decade, I’m much less optimistic that the increases in productivity that have contributed to the slow recovery will generate significant growth in employment.  So like the jobless recovery of the early part of this decade, indeed, in part because that recovery benefited business and finance but not workers, we are again facing a situation where the rich get richer and workers fall further behind.  I’m troubled, too, by the things Beauchemin said with which I agree, like the point that a new manufacturing economy can only thrive here if we have a better-educated workforce.  I think that’s probably right.  And it’s far from easy to accomplish, especially with major cuts to state funding for education and our national struggle to provide good quality education to everyone.  We have a long way to go. 

The economic picture is dismal indeed, so I suppose we need all the good humor and positive attitudes we can get – as long as they don’t keep us from wrestling with the real problems we face.