In Homewood, Race Street redds up

'We have to come together as a neighborhood and work on it together.'

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Sandra Ford was pleased with the landscaping and flooring repairs that volunteers performed at her house Thursday as part of a two-day improvement blitz on Race Street in Homewood.

But she was especially grateful for the message of solidarity implicit in their work.

"This community is part of Pittsburgh," Ms. Ford said.

Volunteers from around the city will return to Race Street today to clear more overgrowth, complete repairs at a handful of homes and improve boarded-up houses with vinyl panels made to resemble doors and windows.

While the work will have a modest impact on one of the city's most troubled neighborhoods, volunteers and city officials hope that small improvements will beget bigger ones, turning the "broken windows" theory of neighborhood decline upside down.

"We have to come together as a neighborhood and work on it together," Dorothy White/Sparrow, a member of the Save Race Street Committee, said.

The blitz has been months in the planning, said Elwin Green, chairman of the Save Race Street Committee.

The city Urban Redevelopment Authority gave about 35 employees release time to participate. The Save Race Street Committee and another neighborhood group, Rosedale Block Cluster Inc., deployed their own volunteers.

The city Redd Up Crew brought in heavy equipment to remove weeds and overgrown foliage. In a statement, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said the blitz "continues our efforts to help our residents who need it most."

Rebuilding Together Pittsburgh, a nonprofit home-improvement group, was present Thursday, will return today and plans many other trips to the neighborhood.

"We have a commitment to Homewood, and Race Street is our first street," said the group's housing coordinator, Katie McAuley.

The vines on one 21/2-story home had climbed as high as the dormer. Elsewhere on Race Street, vacant, boarded-up properties abutted neatly kept homes, a stark reminder of Homewood's perilous state.

About 1,300 houses, 30 percent of the neighborhood's total, are vacant, and 94 percent of them have been unoccupied for more than a year, according to a recent report by the Urban and Research Analysis Program at the University of Pittsburgh's University Center for Social and Urban Research. In 2009, the average sale price for a Homewood house was $9,060, one-tenth the citywide average, according to the report.

The condition of the homes is a shame, Mr. Green said, noting common features include fireplaces, mantles and parquet floors that would be expensive features in new construction.

Nearly 60 percent of the taxable properties in Homewood are delinquent, and nearly half of those owners haven't made a payment in five years. About 2,300 parcels, 44 percent of Homewood's total, are vacant lots. The city or another government entity owns 676 of those lots, the Pitt report said.

In another sign of Homewood's decline, volunteers put together the door and window lookalikes at a former drug store that closed because of crime and other neighborhood problems. The lookalikes will be placed on about two dozen boarded-up houses with the goal of making the structures look lived in and the neighborhood more vibrant.

The blitz began a day after Mr. Ravenstahl and neighborhood groups announced an unrelated venture -- a partnership with Home Depot Foundation to make upgrades to about 70 homes in Homewood and other troubled neighborhoods. The foundation is providing $500,000 for the work, which will take place over two years.

Joe Smydo: or 412-263-1548.


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