Abandoned Red Bell Brewery in Brewerytown. Image via Flickr user Matt Bevilacqua.
The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, an advocacy organization for safe, decent and affordable housing in the state, released a “comprehensive toolkit” for reducing blight last week.
Blight is often defined as the physical decay of a home, neighborhood or city that is caused by neglect and economic distress. The toolkit, “From Blight to Bright,”contains a list of policy recommendations for local governments aimed at addressing this problem.
A few notable examples include adopting a building maintenance code — a prerequisite for many of the other tools — creating a registration system for rental, vacant, and foreclosed properties in order to better track property owners, and denying permits to owners who are tax delinquent.
The goal of grouping these policies into the toolkit is to “make it easier for communities to know what’s available,” said Liz Hersh, executive director of the Housing Alliance.
Finding best practices and then adopting them, Hersh added, is very labor-intensive and time-consuming, especially for small municipalities. The toolkit takes away at least some of that work.
In addition, the Housing Alliance is not just trying to improve enforcement. The eventual goal is to change how municipalities think about blight.
“We’re talking about a pretty substantial paradigm shift,” Hersh said.
The Housing Alliance want to move away from complaint-driven model, where neighbors report blight and municipalities react, to a system where agencies actively enforce code violations as they are happening by keeping better tabs on owners and focusing on properties known to have past violations.
So what’s stopping PA’s cities from embracing this approach?
“The first challenge is political will,” said Hersh. “They have to know what’s available. They have to believe that it’s possible, and they have to have the information they need to implement.”
The PA Housing Alliance plans to hold workshops throughout the state and in Philadelphia to explain the toolkit and apply it to local laws and conditions. Generocity.org will provide an update once these workshops are announced.
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