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Community organization urges public officials to do more to change Mahoning Valley

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - A community organization is putting the pressure on public officials to do more to change the landscape of the Mahoning Valley. Foreclosures, blight and employment for ex-convicts are just some of the issues that came up during a meeting Tuesday evening.

The landscape of vacant foreclosed properties in Youngstown is an ongoing problem that hits home for Claudia Sturtz, who lost her job a couple years ago.

"Basically couldn't find one (a job) that paid anywhere near that. I worked but it was just very difficult. So I started dipping into my savings and my 401k and pretty soon I realized they have got to work with me because we had HARP and TARP and ARP and everything else you could think of, somebody's got to know what they're doing. So I just kept at it," said Sturtz of the Youngstown Neighborhood Leadership Council.

Eventually her house payment was lowered and she was able to stay in her home.

During a Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative meeting at the First Presbyterian Church Tuesday, Sturtz pressed Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains for more action when it comes to transferring foreclosures to the Mahoning County land bank.

"In the six years that Lean Forward Ohio was actually handling the foreclosures they foreclosed on approximately 700 parcels, in the 18 months my office has been handling the foreclosures, we have foreclosed on over 730 parcels in those 18 months," Gains said.

The struggles of people with criminal records looking for jobs was also addressed during the meeting.

"Mahoning County apparently follows a fair hiring policy. I spoke with the HR director Karen U'Halie this afternoon and she assured me that the county does indeed follow that policy meaning that a criminal conviction does not preclude someone from employment in Mahoning County," said Gains.

Wayne Huggins, founder and executive director of the United Returning Citizens Coalition, said "we actually want to sit down with them and kind of be a committee that not really oversees but just so we can have some insight into what's really being done in that area."

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