With a diesel backhoe standing at the ready, Pittsburgh Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced the condemned row houses on Collier Street in Homewood, once known as “the killing fields,” were finally being demolished, almost three years after the city first moved to do so.
The area was called “the killing fields” because it was a haven for drugs and violence.
Longtime resident Sarah Campbell, chairwoman of the Homewood-Brushton Community Coalition, who joined Ravenstahl and Burgess for the press event, called it a blessing.
“We’ve been asking for this for 20 years,” she said. “This is like a dream come true.”
In November, after ruling the city had given the property owners ample time to rehabilitate the properties, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Alan Hertzberg ordered the demolition to proceed. On April 4, it did.
“We made a promise to this community that these houses would come down,” said Ravenstahl. “Today we make good on that promise. ‘The killing fields’ are coming down.”
Thanks to its improved credit rating, the city was able to borrow funds for infrastructure projects that had been put on hold for three years. This also allowed the city to dedicate an additional $3.3 million on dangerous properties like these.
In addition to the Collier Street row houses, demolition also began on properties around the corner on Formosa Way.
The city had originally hoped to assemble about 20 derelict properties in the area into a single demolition contract, but the unusual delay in gaining control of these properties, Burgess said, meant having to do it in two phases.
“They had to go to Israel to serve one of the owners. The city extended a great deal of effort on this,” he said. “Mayor Ravenstahl promised to do this and he has. He’s committed more to this community than any mayor in the last 20 years.”
In the first phase, Burgess added, every building between Collier and Braddock Avenue along Formosa will be removed. The second phase will do the same between Collier and Sterret Street.
Once the demolition is completed, Ravenstahl said the properties would be converted to green spaces and community gardens.
Donald Brown, one of the Homewood residents who attended the press conference, said he used to live on Formosa and would like to see the properties rebuilt quickly.
“I hope they rebuild as soon as they tear down,” he said. “If you take a ride around Homewood, all you’ll see is abandoned buildings and empty lots.”
Burgess said he doesn’t object to the Mayor’s green space initiative.
“We’re waiting to hear on approval of $20 million in tax credits for the housing and business project on the busway and the housing in Larimer,” said Burgess. “So, I’m okay with these properties staying green spaces. For now.”
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