McKeesport is on track to demolish 300 vacant houses in 2018 in "every ward of the city," Mayor Michael Cherepko said Wednesday.
The effort, part of the mayor's previously announced "McKeesport Rising" initiative, is aimed at stablizing neighborhoods and transforming the entrances to the city.
Council by 6-0 vote awarded a $711,500 contract to Jadell Minniefield Construction Services, Inc., a demolition contractor based in Pittsburgh's Hazelwood neighborhood, to tear down 97 vacant houses.
The city will be holding condemnation and demolition proceedings on another 200 houses in the coming months, Cherepko said, and hopes to award another bid in July.
The demolition program is being funded in part by some of the proceeds from last year's $159 million sale of the city's sewerage authority to Pennsylvania American Water Co.
Additional funding is expected to come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through the Community Development Block Grant program, city officials said.
Several dozen houses have already been torn down this year by city public works employees. He expects that city crews will have demolished 50 homes on their own by the end of the year.
"There is not a ward in the city that will not be touched," Cherepko said. Many of the 97 houses to be torn down by Jadell Minniefield, the mayor said, are at the entrances to the city in neighborhoods such as 10th Ward and Peterson Plan, "and then we're moving our way in."
Main arteries through the city, including Versailles and Grandview avenues, also will be targeted.
"The idea is so that when people come into McKeesport, the first thing they see is not blight," he said.
But interior neighborhoods of the city will not be neglected, Cherepko said. On Jenny Lind Street alone, 55 houses are scheduled for demolition.
The strategy, he said, is to improve the quality of life for neighbors, as well as their property values, and make those neighborhoods more attractive for new residents to move into McKeesport.
The city is also beginning an aggressive program to pave several neglected streets, but will wait until nearby demolition is complete, so that heavy demolition equipment doesn't damage freshly repaired roads.
"Soles Street, for instance, is a heavily traveled road," Cherepko said. "We want to get a lot of houses on Soles torn down. It also needs to be paved, but we want to wait until after the houses come down."
But residents expecting immediate action may be disappointed. The process of tearing down an abandoned house takes time, he cautioned. Property owners must be notified by mail, and a public hearing must be held. Every step adds about 30 days to the process, Cherepko said.
"We're also addressing houses that have been the subject of formal complaints to city hall," he said. "I hate to say it, but in this case, the squeaky wheel does get the grease."
Originally published May 03, 2018.