Vacant properties in Braddock to get new owners

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A coalition of community development groups will take possession of four vacant buildings in Braddock with an eye to renovating their first floors for use as commercial space.

The Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County gave its staff authorization to transfer the properties in the 500 block of Braddock Avenue to the Mon Valley Initiative.

The Braddock properties were among 27 pieces of real estate approved for transfer to new owners under the county's Vacant Property Recovery Program, including lots in Carnegie, O'Hara, Penn Hills and Wilkinsburg.

"This is one of the best programs we have to get vacant properties and empty lots back on the tax rolls," authority member Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Brookline, said after the recent vote on the Braddock sites.

The Braddock Avenue structures are across the street from the site of the now-demolished UPMC Braddock hospital. That property is being redeveloped with a $20 million plan to include office and retail space, rental housing, single-family homes and a small community park.

The upgrading of the four vacant buildings through the Mon Valley Initiative will aid efforts to improve the neighborhood around the site of the former hospital, Dennis Davin, county economic development director, said.

Taxes had not been paid on the properties for many years, Mr. Davin said. Municipal liens had reached levels well above the value of the real estate. Sometimes even the issue of who owned the properties was unclear, he said. Papernick & Gefsky, the law firm that serves as solicitor for the redevelopment authority, determined ownership, obtained titles and arranged for the payment or removal of the liens.

The Mon Valley Initiative also will become the owner of five properties needed for an affordable housing project in Turtle Creek. Three vacant parcels are in the 200 and 300 blocks of Grant Street. A fourth in the 300 block of Sara Street and a fifth in the 300 block of Neal Street contain vacant structures, one of which will be torn down.

Most of that property will become parking and green space, according to Cassandra Collinge, manager of consumer programs for the county's Department of Economic Development.

Four homeowners will get title to mostly small vacant lots next to or behind their homes in Carnegie, O'Hara, Penn Hills and Wilkinsburg. The families have been taking care of the properties on their own, Ms. Collinge said. Once they acquire ownership, they will be responsible for future taxes.

The largest tract is on Logan Street, an alley behind Flynn Avenue in Carnegie. James and Carrie Pancake, who live at 505 Flynn Ave., plan to buy the 24,000-square-foot lot. The topography of the land makes it unsuitable for building.

AHI Development, the real estate arm of Action Housing, is in line to acquire multiple vacant buildings and an empty lot on Wallace Avenue in Wilkinsburg. They will be used to provide green space and parking for the Hosanna House community center across the street, Ms. Collinge said. "This project should improve the area and reduce blight," she said.

The redevelopment authority itself will acquire an eight-unit former apartment building in the 800 block of Rebecca Avenue in Wilkinsburg's Hamnett Place neighborhood. The authority will seek a developer to partner with it in restoring the structure.

The apartment building is not far from two new housing projects overseen by the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. Those efforts, undertaken with the aid of almost a dozen government agencies, foundations and financial institutions, resulted in the restoration of two early 20th century apartment houses, the Crescent Building at Rebecca and Kelly avenues, and the Wilson Building on Jeannette Street.


Len Barcousky: or 724-772-0184.


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