Blight

Big Plans for Tiny Houses in Garfield

Dec 2, 2014
Inhabitat Blog / Flickr

With plenty of vacant lots and green space, people in the Garfield neighborhood have come up with a plan to revitalize the area.

Could tiny homes attract residents and be the key to remaking the area? Joining us to share this vision for Garfield is Rick Swartz, executive director of the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation.

A housing advocate says Pennsylvania is falling behind neighboring states in its efforts to combat blight.

Nearly two years ago, the state passed legislation for what's called land banking — a set of new tools for cities and counties to grab up derelict properties and speed their return to productive use. Sometimes that means flipping houses, sometimes it means demolishing a structure to turn the plot into green space or storm water management.

Seven land banks have been established in the commonwealth, but a lack of funding has made the process slow-going.

Johnstown’s Tribune-Democrat, in Western Pennsylvania, recently conducted an online survey to evaluate progress on local issues. Johnstown is a shrinking industrial city with a nearly 9-percent unemployment rate, and one of the worst-funded pension systems in the state.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Maura Kennedy is Pittsburgh's new Bureau of Building Inspection Chief. She came to the job four months ago from Philadelphia, where she led a strategic building code enforcement campaign targeting the city's many blighted properties.

Keystone Crossroads' Irina Zhorov spoke with her about her experience in Philadelphia and her plans for Pittsburgh.

With the heavily boarded up community of Homestead as a backdrop, the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania released a toolkit to fight blight today.

Six months ago, the vacant lot next door to Linda Piso’s house in Knoxville was overgrown with weeds and was a haven for drug activity.

But Piso has since transformed the lot into a community garden.

“Right now I’m picking cucumbers,” Piso said on Saturday. “My garden is completely planted. I have lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, and soon I’ll have a watermelon.”

Special series: This week we're exploring legislative action taken recently in Harrisburg on important bills that were overshadowed by the passage of the state budget.

Most cities are plagued by blighted and abandoned properties, but who is responsible to demolish them after the owner is nowhere to be found? Senate bill 1442 could solve these issues with a fee on foreclosed properties.

Photo courtesy Lawrenceville United

Blight is a major problem in Pittsburgh, and the city is pursuing several big-picture initiatives to deal with it.

Community Design for Changing Demographics

Jun 3, 2014
Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA


“If a city were a human body, then blight is a disease.”

Like many other older industrial cities, the Pittsburgh region has its share of blight. According to the most recent data from the 2010 census, there are more than 50 thousand vacant houses in Allegheny County. For more than a century, federal, state and city governments have tried to address the issue.

90.5 WESA’s Larkin Paige-Jacobs recently reported on a new generation of tools is being used to try and clean up blighted neighborhoods.

Key to this fight is Land Bank legislation which Mayor Bill Peduto urged city council to pass in order to expedite the claiming of blighted and abandoned property.

"The land bank allows the city to quickly acquire and bundle tax delinquent properties to sell to home developers, rather than the piecemeal and time-consuming approach neighborhood development corporations had taken." 

Beyond Blight...

In our quest to battle blight, how can neighborhood improvements accommodate the current residents and the next generation? How can we revitalize in a way that's adaptive to changing demographics? The Design Center helps local neighborhoods create community driven development plans.

We talked about this with Chris Koch, interim CEO of the Design Center, along with project consultants Rob Pfaffmann, an architect and designer, and Todd Poole, Managing principal and president of 4Ward Planning.

Chris Koch explained how the Design Center balances the developer’s desire for a return on their investment while not driving people out of their communities.

“We want developers in our communities, but there’s anxiety that comes with development. How do we help the communities navigate that? Everything has to be a compromise. When its developer driven, the community doesn't get to be part of the conversation. So it’s finding a way for both groups to come to the table and work with our designers in the city of Pittsburgh to find solutions that work for everybody.”

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Like many older industrial cities, the Pittsburgh region has its share of blight. According to the most recent data from the 2010 census, there are more than 50,000 vacant houses in Allegheny County.

For more than a century, federal, state and city governments have tried to address the issue. Today, a new generation of tools is being used in attempts to clean up blighted neighborhoods.

If a city were a human body, then blight is a disease, according to Aggie Brose, deputy director of the Bloomfield Garfield Corporation.

Flickr user MichaelGoodin

After three months of community meetings, disagreements, and compromises, Pittsburgh City Council passed Councilwoman Deb Gross’s land bank legislation Monday morning.

Councilmen Ricky Burgess and Daniel Lavelle have had the greatest concerns about the land bank proposal, but both voted in favor of the legislation.

Peter Pawlowski / Flickr

Earlier this year District 7 Councilor Deb Gross introduced legislation to develop a Land Bank in Pittsburgh. The system would operate as a repository for properties that often have little prospect of redevelopment.

District 5 Councilor Corey O' Connor is a supporter of the concept. He and Councilor Gross say the idea is to create a system to get abandoned properties publicly inventoried and marketed for re-use by neighbors, community groups, developers or realtors.

Around 200 people spoke at last week’s public hearing on Councilwoman Deb Gross’s land bank legislation, according to Gross’s chief of staff Nathaniel Hansen.

At least one of those people, Josh Caldwell of the Pittsburgh Real Estate Investors Association, has gone public with his proposal for fighting urban blight.

Pittsburgh City Council had their first opportunity to discuss Deb Gross’s proposed land bank legislation as a group on Wednesday. The bill was first introduced on Jan. 14.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The newly-formed Garfield chapter of Action United led state and local government representatives on a walking tour Thursday of the neighborhood that, like others in Pittsburgh, is struggling with the effects of blight.

“Safety, roads, sidewalks, things for the kids to do,” said Marquise Williams, chapter president, “I feel like if kids had more to do a lot of the crime and a lot of the stuff would decline because there’s more activities for the kids to do.”

Blighted properties not only are an eyesore for neighborhoods and communities, but also they cost homeowners and local governments millions of dollars, according to a new report from Delta Development Group Inc.

“The annual impact of these problem properties for our 41 communities is actually over $254 million a year, which is enormous,” said An Lewis, executive director of the Steel Valley Council of Governments, one of the groups that commissioned the report.

Burgess: Blight in Homewood Could Spread

Jun 24, 2013

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.

Allegheny County is hoping to fight blight by offering as much as a $3,000 discount to anyone looking to take ownership and improve abandon properties.

The Allegheny County Vacant Property Recovery Program usually charges individuals or entities that want to acquire the properties the assessed value of the parcel plus about $3,000 in fees. Between now and July 15 the county will waive between $1,600 and all of the fees.