“This is the first I’ve heard of it,” he said. “But our priority is always to do the ‘worst of the worst’ first.”

Contrary to popular myth, Loy said, the city doesn’t own the bulk of these properties. The ones it takes in tax sales go up for resale almost immediately, so they can be put back on the rolls.

“Unless it’s an immediate hazard, we only demo properties after several attempts to contact the owner about making repairs or taking it down themselves,” he said. “Otherwise, the last letter they get is one saying, ‘your building’s been razed and you owe us for the work.’”

The problem is, even if  some of the houses Stevens listed are salvageable, no government agency, bank or foundation is going to pay, say $50,000 a piece (roughly $2.5 million) to a nonprofit to fix them, unless they have title to the properties. Otherwise an owner could reappear and say thanks for the free work.

Stevens said he has no idea how to pay for the initiative and is hoping council can come up with a “creative” solution after his presentation May 29.

Democratic mayoral primary winner Councilman Bill Peduto, who first proposed employing community agencies and youth to revitalize the city’s housing stock months ago during his campaign, said he would work to move the idea forward.

“You deal with the properties you do have title to, and there are thousands that either the city or the (Urban Redevelopment Authority) owns,” he said. “You have to work with third parties, some are already doing it now one house at a time. We could use part of demolition budget of around $4 million a year, and we could double or triple number of homes renovated.

“It’s not a money maker for the city, but it can be a long term investment for homes and jobs to be done through faith-based and nonprofits in their own communities.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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