'Redding-up' abandoned houses taking longer than city expected

List of condemned properties gets longer

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The city of Pittsburgh's effort to board up abandoned homes is still playing catch-up.

In mid-June, the late mayor Bob O'Connor predicted that it would take his "redd-up crew" a month to board up all of the city's vacant homes that sit wide open.

But yesterday, eight months later, his successor, Luke Ravenstahl, was out in Hazelwood slapping up plywood on an abandoned house on Roma Street, one of nine buildings in that neighborhood his crew planned to seal by sundown.

"They've got another 61 to go," said Sam Strati, a 50-year resident of Hazelwood, who said that nearly one in six houses in his area is abandoned.

The mayor didn't dispute that.

"In Hazelwood and other neighborhoods, the demand for the redd-up crew to be in neighborhoods far exceeds the opportunity for them to do so on a regular basis, because of the backlog of abandoned properties and vacant properties throughout the city," Mr. Ravenstahl said.

"We'll continue to work as quickly as we can to address these problems."

Since June, the city has boarded up more than 800 abandoned properties, according to Public Works Director Guy Costa, including 72 in January.

But the problem of wide-open, abandoned houses, inviting to squatters and animals, seems to migrate down city streets.

In the 600 block of Beltzhoover Avenue, for instance, the city in May tore down two houses that had long stood open. Yesterday the next abandoned house in line, 612 Beltzhoover Ave., had open windows and doors along the side and in the back, and was littered with buckets, crates, ceiling tiles and other junk.

Around the corner, 421 Charles St. was partially boarded up, but the front door was open.

That house is condemned, but as of yesterday wasn't yet slated for demolition. It is among 1,355 condemned buildings in the city. The Bureau of Building Inspection expects to take down 250 to 275 of them this year.

That's up from 203 buildings razed last year. But despite steady increases in the number of demolitions, the backlog continues to grow. There were around 1,000 condemned buildings in the city in 2005, and 35 percent more now.

"We've been able to add resources into the 2007 budget to increase demolition," said the mayor, adding that he'd try to continue to boost that part of the budget in future years.

His five-year financial plan, though, includes only minor increases in the budget for demolition work.

The mayor and City Council are working on legislation that would require owners of vacant houses to submit plans to board up, demolish or rehabilitate them. Council is expected to vote on it some time after a March 6 public hearing.

Rich Lord can be reached at rlord@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1542.


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