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Vacancy & Blight

Over the last 20 years, an average of four people per week have left Wilkinsburg. Since 2000, more than 1,400 properties have been abandoned. Today, almost a quarter of Wilkinsburg’s properties are vacant. Although a few neighborhoods are stable, these are concentrated on the eastern and western borders while the Borough’s central business and residential districts are seeing the most rapid decline.

Blighted and vacant properties aren’t just eyesores; they create serious public health and safety issues.1 Left unchecked, these problems tend to grow2 while tax revenues and property values decline. This means there are fewer resources to address other community needs.

Blight and vacancy increase other public costs such as fire protection, code enforcement, and police services, which further reduce Borough fund balances. This downward spiral of less revenue, higher costs, and fewer services is what remains for those who remain.

Becoming part of the City can help address these issues. More resources and greater expertise will help us realize our community aspirations: to reduce vacancy, increase homeownership for residents, enhance neighborhood safety, make rental properties more affordable, and put more businesses in storefronts.

It’s critical to stay ahead of market pressures that can displace low-income residents, people of color, and long-time business owners. While some neighborhoods in the Pittsburgh region are struggling with similar issues, dedicated resources in the City are developing policies and strategies to address them.

Map highlighting vacant structures and vacant lots in Wilkinsburg

How would a merger address this issue?

Wilkinsburg would have more access to vacant property recovery resources. Lower property taxes mean more homeownership, less tax delinquency, and less abandonment. Lower property taxes also increase the ability of landlords to invest in and maintain their properties. Pittsburgh has more capacity to manage vacant properties and health and safety hazards—and to both list and sell properties.

Why are some neighborhoods more stable?

Neighborhoods on the Borough’s east and west sides have fewer vacant properties, likely related in part to the stability of these adjacent municipalities (the City of Pittsburgh and Churchill Borough), as well as strong single-family residential patterns.

What’s the status of our commercial corridor?

The vacancy rate in our central business district has jumped from 13% to 21% since 2017, which means more boarded up storefronts along our commercial corridor.

What kinds of resources does the City have for fixing up vacant property?

Pittsburgh has a Real Estate Division that manages a list of city-owned properties available for sale to homeowners and businesses. The department also oversees requests to take tax delinquent properties to the Treasurer’s Sale and offers specific pricing for Side Yard eligible properties. The Department of City Planning has a Vacant Lot Toolkit that guides those who want to do projects on vacant land or participate in the Adopt-A-Lot program, which allows residents to use city-owned vacant lots for food, flower, or rain gardens.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority has a Small Landlord Fund which grants low-interest loans to landlords who own five or fewer units for the creation or preservation of affordable housing. They also have a Neighborhood Initiatives Fund, which offers loans to nonprofit and community-based organizations for commercial purposes, and can be used for vacant property.

There is blight in other parts of Pittsburgh. How could a merger end blight in Wilkinsburg?

While a merger will not guarantee an immediate fix, it would present Wilkinsburg with a significant level of experience and expertise to focus on blight. Lower property taxes, combined with programs offered through the Urban Redevelopment Authority, will generate new resources for Wilkinsburg to address blight.

Who is leaving Wilkinsburg?

While Wilkinsburg remains a majority black community, demographic shifts are happening. Over the last 10 years, the black population has declined by 19% and the white population has increased by 28%. Since the Borough has not seen much investment, we attribute the shifts to blight, loss of housing stock, and barriers to homeownership resulting from Wilkinsburg’s high tax rate.

What is the Borough doing about it?

There are some tools available in Wilkinsburg, such as Allegheny County’s Vacant Property Recovery Program, properties actively being listed for sheriff sales, and the WCDC’s Vacant Property Initiative. These programs help residents acquire vacant and tax delinquent properties and assist potential investors or home buyers with options for the acquisition, finance, and restoration of vacant property. Even with these tools, vacancy continues to rise at an alarming rate. With such high property taxes, our current resources are just not enough.

  1. https://www.urban.org/research/publication/urban-blight-and-public-health/view/full_report
  2. https://www.huduser.gov/portal/periodicals/em/winter14/highlight1.html

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