Councilperson Shallegra Moye watches as Singer Avenue resident Rose Glevicky shows video footage detailing the overgrowth of a vacant property in her neighborhood.
BY SONJA REIS | MRCDC
The overriding emotion as nearly 100 residents and community officials gathered Aug. 23 to discuss the vacant, abandoned and blighted properties in McKees Rocks was frustration.
When they left the town hall about 2 ½ hours later, many were grateful for the information and ideas provided and eager to contribute information about their neighborhood or to join the committee allowing work toward a solution to continue. Others remained skeptical anything would come of the proposed committee’s work.
“Unfortunately, there are about 600 properties in McKees Rocks that are vacant, abandoned, blighted. Whatever you want to call it, said Maribeth Taylor, councilperson and resident services coordinator with the McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation (MRCDC). The two groups worked together to hold the initial meeting.
“We don’t have all the answers,” said Taylor, who noted over the years the borough went from 85 percent homeownership to a 67 percent rental rate.
Using Loveland Technology’s Site Control app, the MRCDC and volunteers spent the past three years collecting data on the municipality’s housing stock using smartphones. In addition to a photo, specific information on the status of the property is uploaded to a database with the app.
Not all of the community has been surveyed and problems occur when the person surveying a neighborhood is unfamiliar with the status of a particular property.
“We don’t know, but you do,” said Taylor. “And that is where you can help.”
A committee is being formed to add to the database and to work toward finding the best way or ways to stem the problem.
In response to charges leveled during the meeting that property complaints are not always taken care of, McKees Rocks Solicitor Megan M. Turnbull of the Weiss Burkhardt and Kramer firm discussed the issues with “old fashioned code enforcement” and how it is not always practical.
“I’ve never seen a dead person cut their grass,” she said.
The borough recently hired a full-time code enforcement officer to tackle issues that can be remedied.
Turnbull also discussed the difference between blight and vacancy. A blighted property is one that is both vacant and abandoned and is not listed for sale. Typically a blighted property reflects serious violations to code and has municipal liens for delinquent taxes, she said.
The borough, school district and county all actively pursue delinquent property taxes.
Additionally, Turnbull discussed who is responsible for blighted properties, which code enforcement tools can be used to help and ways to “recycle” blighted properties to get them into the hands of someone who will care for it.
She also noted demolition of properties too far gone is an expensive prospect for a community with limited resources.
Other avenues were discussed including conservatorship, property donations, Lawrenceville Corporation’s Community Land Trust, Tri-COG Land Bank and the Allegheny County Vacant Property Recovery program.
Representatives from both Dollar Bank and Key Bank discussed special low-cost mortgage options to help those interested in buying or rehabbing a home.
“Homeownership is key to rebuilding neighborhoods,” said Ray Garofalo, vice president of community development at Dollar.
“Positive things are happening in the Rocks,” said Garofalo, who is also an MRCDC board member.
Several developers interested in working with the community to flip or invest in vacant properties also attended.
Vincenzo Matarazzo, regional construction manager with nonprofit Growth by NCRC, is from Kennedy and excited by the prospects he sees for the borough.
“McKees Rocks has always been heavy on my heart. I always told my parents I was going to do something there and I am,” he said.
Those interested in providing feedback about trouble spots in their neighborhood or joining the committee should reach out to Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-331-9900.