Community
3:30 am
Mon June 24, 2013

Burgess: Blight in Homewood Could Spread

More than 40 percent of land parcels and 30 percent of houses in Homewood are vacant. That’s according to research from the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Urban and Social Research.

A town hall meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday in Homewood at the Carnegie Library to address the issue of blight, demolition of housing and land banking in that neighborhood. Pittsburgh Councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess is hosting the forum, and he said there has been talk for years about addressing the problem of vacant and abandoned properties, but there’s been little action.

“The problem is actually severe and significant and getting worse every year,” Burgess said.

The councilman said several months ago the state legislature gave the city the authority to create a land bank, a quasi-city agency such as the “URA or Water and Sewer Authority.” But Burgess added the state has yet to give the city the power to streamline the process in seizing the vacant properties, which can still take up to 18 months.

Burgess said the city has to aggressively go after vacant properties and return them to their best use.

“For those properties that can be rehabbed, we will dispose them to either nonprofits or individuals who can rehab them,” Burgess said. “To properties that are beyond the point of rehab, they are condemned and torn down. We then try to amass enough land when possible to attract developers for new developments.”

Acquiring the land and houses is the first step, the next is coming up with the money to maintain the properties until they’re renovated and reused.

Burgess said in his council district alone there are 4,000 vacant properties, “and I believe the blight is also a contributor to the sense of hopelessness and a sense which increases the violence and crime in that area."

But BPEP, the Black Political Empowerment Project, has asked the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County for a moratorium on the demolition of structures in black communities.

BPEP member William Anderson said the rapid demolition of properties that could easily be rehabbed is the beginning of gentrification that will force Homewood residents out. However, Burgess' legislation deals with vacant and abandoned properties.

The councilman warned without action the blight problem will not only get worse in Homewood and the East End but also creep into other neighborhoods. 

“The two more areas that are most likely to experience are parts of the Hill (District) and the West End actually,” Burgess said. “They are the new frontiers in terms of this blighted devastation that can go on. So the time to begin to remedy this problem and put a practical solution together is now.”