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REAL ESTATE: B-PEP calls for moratorium on demolitions

Posted by Elwin Green on May 22, 2013 at 2:10 AM

(UPDATE: May 22, 2013, 2:36 p.m.) 

In a press conference held this morning in Homewood, members of the Black Political Empowerment Project joined with residents to call for a moratorium on the demolition of homes in largely Black and low-income neighborhoods in Pittsburgh and in Allegheny County..

The press conferences follows a letter that B-PEP sent to government officials last week expressing its concern.

In that letter, sent to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, and members of both City Council and County Council, B-PEP chairman and CEO Tim Stevens wrote, "We believe the massive rapid demolition of the housing stock, particularly within the African American and low income communities, is a clear and present danger to these communities' existence."

He continues by noting, "As of May 1, 2013 there were some 231 condemned properties in the community of Homewood. It is hard to believe there are that many homes in the Homewood community alone that rise to the level of condemnatin according to the building code of Pennsylvania."

The letter requests that, with the exception of properties determined to be an immediate and extreme threat to the safety of the community, the condemned properties "be left for rehabilitation" by neighborhood nonprofits.

A representative of one of those nonprofits, Homewood Renaissance Association, was the press conference. The association was created by House Of Manna, a Presbyterian mission church in Homewood pastored by Rev. Eugene "Free Dom" Blackwell.

Sean Finch, diector of RSA's All for Life program (highlighted in a Post-Gazette feature story last year) described how the program began.

"There were 15 young men that were literally taken right off the corner of Frankstown and Homewood Avenue," he said. "There were guys that Rev. Blackwell went after personally while he was actually out street preaching."

Now 10 of those young men are on the verge of completing their third semester of training in the building trades so that they rehabilitate abandoned properties in Homewood. Three went back to college - two at Community College of Allegheny County and one at Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Resident William D. Anderson, whom Stevens credited with putting the housing demolitions on B-PEP's agenda, said that rehabilitation should be the City's primary approach to abandoned houses.

"These properties have not reached the level of condemnation based on the building inspection code of Pennsylvania," Anderson said. "These building inspectors are violating this law, using it to both violate peoples' right to own property and their right to due process.

"These buildings could easiy be rehabbed, basically, with the money that you're paying...to have these properties demolished."

Stevens said that B-PEP will attend next Wednesday's meeting of City Council to present its concerns there.

Categories: Real Estate

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Reply pghsteel
7:12 AM on May 23, 2013 
I agree, the issue does bring a measure of consternation. However, I find it difficult to believe that all 200+ home can be/WILL be rehabilitated. Visual blight brings about spiritual blight. I feel the majority should be demolished. Goodness, we don't need a circumstance similar to Petra's promises to utilize the old East Hills Shopping Center. Wishes can be well intentioned, they don't always come thru.
Reply ag15208
11:03 AM on May 23, 2013 
I would agree with pgsteel. Part of the reason the 200+ homes are in the state that they're in breaks down to years of broken promises for rehabilitation, delinquency, abandonment and abuse both by political and community officials as well as individuals within the community. As a long time Homewood resident, member of local government and student of architecture I'm constantly torn over the issue...

On one hand, I see the flood of complaints and request that come into the City where many of the homes now being removed have been REQUESTED by community members to be removed for YEARS... and after quite some time, they've finally either fallen into such a state of disrepair that they must be taken down or they've finally made it to the top of a LONG demo list. Pittsburgh was a City built for 600,000 and we're literally only half full. Our infrastructure and incoming revenue reflects this... we have way too much without enough to support it all... That's just a fact of not only Pittsburgh but our area. We're finally on the comeback, but that still means there's a lot to be done to respect our historic past but upgrade to remain competitive for the future.

I agree some homes can be saved and should be, especially in Homewood, Beautiful, huge homes with 4-5 bedrooms, 10ft ceilings, brick and mortar bones, stained glass and bay windows... But at the same time, to bring some (not all) of these homes back from the state they're in, it's just easier and less expensive to build new... Especially when some of the newer homes out performing the older in terms of how we now live vs. 60 - 100 years ago when they were built.

A large developer wants a good bit of property to develop... not just a home here and there... and it takes time to rebuild and flip a property, and in Homewood... it just isn't happening fast enough when you add other issues like crime, poor property value etc. You can't get a loan large enough (even with great credit) to get the financing to make all the improvements some of these homes need... Believe me, I'm trying now.

But I digress... Again, torn... happy some things are finally being done.. I can' t wait to not have to go to SH or Pt Breeze, East Lib to get a good meal, have takeout come to my house and go shopping.. not happy because it is somewhat troubling to see how empty our community is (at the moment)... I don't know what's worse... the abandon boarded up home attracted unwanted visitors (human or animal) or the vacant lot that I'm sure will eventually be overgrown attracting unwanted visitors... At least the lots don't usually go up in flames I guess? I suppose it all comes down to there not being an easy answer or clear cut right or wrong... The state our community's in has a lot to do with the things our local officials have misunderstood or gotten wrong and us as a community has gotten wrong or allowed to happen without taking an active role in impacting. I see many working very hard daily without enough support so hopefully from voting for the right representation to getting involved in the civic process we will do a better job going forward.... It all counts.
Reply Elwin Green
1:05 PM on May 23, 2013 
Ag15208, you touched on something that I was going to mention in a follow-up story: the fact that some residents do indeed want Homewood's abandoned houses torn down, and have ASKED for them to be torn down.

I understand why someone living next door to a vacant house for years may be convinced that a vacant lot would be better, because it would be less dangerous.

At the same time, I'm a preservationist at heart, so I'm inclined to agree with B-PEP's basic position, even as I disagree with their method so far (I'll say more about that in a follow-up post).

I hope to see you at the Homewood Community Meeting this evening!

Pghsteel - I think I need to steal this line: "Visual blight brings about spiritual blight."