I-TEAM: Tearing Down Lives - How Toledo’s demolition list is threatening some family homes

I-TEAM: Tearing Down Lives
Published: Jul. 14, 2023 at 11:39 AM EDT|Updated: Jul. 18, 2023 at 10:08 AM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - The City of Toledo is aiming to tear down 1,000 homes, and Amanda Shurweier’s house on Everett Street is one of them.

“I really was in disbelief,” Suhrweier said. “I was like there’s no way they’re tearing this house down. There’s nothing wrong with the house.”

Suhrweier’s house is on the city’s demolition list and she should have received a notice.

“They receive a posting on the property and a letter that goes to the most current mailing address we have on file,” Toledo’s Director of Public Service Megan Robson said.

However, Suhrweier said she never received a letter or posting. It’s the same story for the Lewis’ and their house on Warren Street that they’re hoping to rehab.

“We didn’t get any notices about the house until a lady from Collingwood area contacted us and told us it was on the demolition list,” said Carolyne Lewis, who grew up in the Warren house.

Fanny Effler, a member of the Olde Towne Neighborhood Association began a crusade back in March to inform homeowners their properties are on the list and help them save their homes.

Sophie Bates: “Most of the homeowners that you’re talking with, did they know that their home is on the demolition list?”

Fanny Effler: “No! That was the point. That was the point. I mean, seriously, putting a note on their door saying help save this house is getting the attention. They’re like, ‘What are you talking about? What’s wrong with our house?’ Well, you’re on the list. ‘What list? We don’t know about any list.’”

You might remember we did a story with Sara Maas’ story in January. She bought her first home on Oak Street without knowing it was on the demo list.

“It’s very stressful. It’s incredibly frustrating. I feel like -- I feel almost helpless,” Maas said in January. “You know, if I had the money, I’d move and never come back.”

Six months after our story, and after spending thousands of dollars repairing the house, the city agreed to take it off the demolition list.

The demolition list is a catalog of 1,000 homes put together using Lucas County Land Bank Surveys and input from Toledo’s Code Compliance Department. The city created the list as part of an application for a $10 million building demolition grant from the State of Ohio.

How does a home end up on the list?

“The homes have some identified nuisances,” Robson said.

Nuisances range from overgrown grass to broken windows and caved in roofs.

‘There was a lot of brush and weeds that had grew up. Exposed paint -- they wanted it painted. I had a couple of broken windows they wanted fixed. And then the roof was a concern to them,” Suhrweier said, adding that the issues piled up after her family moved to Texas for a job.

She normally comes back every year to maintain the house, but in recent years, Suhrweier had to bury a child and pay for medication for a diabetic child, which are all financial burdens.

Suhrweier, her husband and their eight children are now back in Toledo. They want to turn the five-bedroom house on Everett into their forever home.

“It’s perfect as far as size and has a Michigan basement. I own this lot over here, so I plan on putting a little play area over here. I hope to buy this lot one day and put a pool in there. The basement, I want to refinish it, make it a game area and stuff for my kids,” Suhrweier said. “So, we have a lot of big dreams for this home.”

Suhrweier cut down the weeds, painted and house, fixed the windows, is working on the roof and went to the Nuisance Housing Appeals Board in an attempt to save her house.

“Two days later I get a denial letter saying ‘your appeal has been denied. You can go to court if you want to,’” Suhrweier said.

She’s still trying to save her home, but it she doesn’t, she’ll be on the hook for a $10,000 bill. Robson says the charge is to reimburse the city for costs incurred during demolition.

The city has to match 25% of the state grant. Part of that is coming from people who have their homes demolished.

“You want to stick me with a $10,000 bill for tearing it down, for tearing down a house that I didn’t even want you to tear down,” Suhrweier said. “They’re talking about this beautification program, but their idea of beautification is 1,000 empty lots.”

As for the lots left over after demolition, the city hopes someone will buy them -- maybe a neighbor looking to expand their property or someone wanting to build a community garden -- but there are no concrete plans.