Nonprofit, Pittsburgh City Council at odds over blighted housing
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The Highland Park Community Development Corp. had hoped to buy a house at 6046 Jackson St. and use the profit from its resale to renovate two blighted homes it owns on North St. Clair Street.
But Pittsburgh City Council, in a preliminary vote last week, blocked the sale of the city-owned property to the nonprofit. A final vote is scheduled for Tuesday.
Spurred in part by complaints from constituents, Councilman Patrick Dowd pointed to the group's lack of movement on the North St. Clair properties and suggested that its commitment lies more with development of business properties on Bryant Street.
David Hance, president of the Highland Park group, said residential revitalization in the neighborhood's southwest quadrant has been and remains a primary focus. He and other members of the CDC met Wednesday night with Mr. Dowd, he said, "and we had a frank airing of views."
The councilman's frustration over properties at 839 and 841 N. St. Clair is merited, said Ernie Hogan, CDC treasurer.
"We have been negligent," Mr. Hogan said. "But we now have a maintenance crew. I believe the relationship is resolvable. Before the legislation passes, the question is whether the councilman and the CDC can come together."
Pierina Morelli, a resident of Mellon Street, has been persistent in trying to get the CDC to clear its properties of weeds and debris. On a recent visit to North St. Clair, the two properties had been cleaned. She said the neighbors have been living with blighted properties for too long.
"When we bought in this block [in 2006], we were told it was the cornerstone and jewel of the Highland Park neighborhood, and that other homes all around us would become single family and renovated."
The two houses on North St. Clair are large old structures with stone towers.
"We have owned the properties for several years," Mr. Hance said. "We have talked to six private developers and every one has come to the conclusion that the cost of renovation is too great. ...
"Private buyers are interested" in the house on Jackson, which is now a multi-unit property. "That is a market-stable portion of the neighborhood."
The market value of the Jackson Street property is $79,000.
The CDC has intended to buy it and "resell it to a responsible buyer and direct a quality restoration to single-family," he said. "We're baffled that our councilman is not on our side."
The CDC is an all-volunteer organization.
Mr. Dowd, who could not be reached for comment, informed city council that the CDC is tax-delinquent, but the county assessment website indicates the taxes are current on 12 properties Mr. Hogan said the CDC owns, some of them rentals.
"We pay $30,000 a year in city, schools and county taxes," Mr. Hogan said.
The CDC bought its first properties in 1995. In the past 10 years, it has renovated and restored 11 affordable rental units, nine market-rate rental units, seven single-family houses and several commercial buildings on Bryant Street.
About six years ago, the group began working with East Liberty Development Inc. to buy and restore blighted houses in Highland Park's southwest quadrant. It was in the interests of both to shore up the neighborhood's most vulnerable quadrant, which borders on East Liberty. The collaboration ended in a rift two years ago.
Mr. Hance said Highland Park wanted to "control the quality of the remaining properties. Their model is not a good fit for us. The scale of the challenge we face is relatively finite."
Mr. Hogan said Highland Park's focus is on historic preservation and restoration and that East Liberty uses "a production model."
Mr. Hogan said he thinks the CDC and Mr. Dowd can work things out.
First Published September 10, 2012 12:05 am