MAKING POINTS—Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess counts off the community-involved criteria he expects to incorporate in his pending LandBank legislation to address neighborhood blight. (Photo by J.L. Martello.)
Despite the heat, about 60 neighborhood residents and stakeholders filled the upstairs meeting room at the Homewood Library for a discussion with Black Political Empowerment Project Founder Tim Stevens and Pittsburgh Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess on issues surrounding blighted properties.
In May, Stevens began calling for a moratorium on housing demolitions in Black neighborhoods, particularly Homewood, saying it destroys any sense of neighborhood, and that some could be rehabbed by residents providing job skills and taxable properties.
Burgess thanked all who came, including several representatives from the Homewood Renaissance Association, Operation Better Block and the Community Empowerment Association.
He then gave an overview of his pending legislation to create a Pittsburgh LandBank.
Per legislation first proposed by Burgess in November, the LandBank would allow the city to claim blighted or tax delinquent properties more quickly, determine their best use and to maintain them until resold.
He said the LandBank could require that work done sealing properties, rehabbing houses, or maintaining cleared lots all be done by community residents. The LandBank can also take community input into which properties should be demolished, which preserved and which sealed for future rehabilitation.
“It gives us better control, especially on the disposition of these properties,” he said. “Right now, we have Jerome Jackson, executive director of Operation Better Block creating a database of all the blighted and tax delinquent properties because, believe it on not, no one city agency has them all listed.”
Stevens then pointed out the work being done by HRA and Rev. Eugene Blackwell who have trained young people in the building trades—some of whom have started their own painting company.
HRA member Sean Finch said 10 of their students had just built a house from scratch. More interestingly, the team is rehabbing a house, for free, just to get cost data.
“The (Urban Redevelopment Authority) sells these rehabs for $150,000. That’s not low-income housing,” he said. “And it’s because they put stuff like $350 four-panel interior doors in houses that are worth $15,000. It’s insane. These should be starter homes.”
Democratic candidate for mayor of Pittsburgh Bill Peduto praised Blackwell’s organization, and suggested residents go Online and look at how Landbanking had helped Flint, Mich reclaim some of its blighted properties.
Real estate Broker Judy Ginyard said the Pittsburgh LandBank would be a useful tool because it would allow things the URA can’t. The authority owns vast numbers of blighted properties, but cannot dispose of them singly or in small groups.
“It’s a good tool but we still have to get back to who owns the property,” she said. “We did what Jerome is doing in Larimer 10 years ago, and most of those properties are still there because they are the URA’s. To even touch one of those, you have to have a development plan. So the question is, how do we get these into the community’s hands?”
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