Saturday, Popup Pittsburgh held an event highlighting the progress of Pittsburgh's Southern hills centered in the neighborhood of Allentown. According to their twitter feeds, City Council members Natalia Rudiak and Bill Peduto made appearances. When I showed up at 4PM, I was delighted to see more people than I'd ever seen trolling for parking and wandering the streets. Thanks to the folks at the Leadership Pittsburgh Inc that made this event happen.
During the event, Hilltop Alliance members were attempting to spread the word vacant lots in the hilltop. This area of Pittsburgh has 300 city-owned vacant lots. If one of these lots is adjacent to your home, you can buy it for a measly $200 through the city's side lot program.
Less than 24 hours after this lively, family-friendly event, Allentown residents saw first-hand one of the unfortunate consequences of these abandoned houses. At 3:30AM, a fire started in a vacant house in the 900 block of East Warrington Ave and spread to a neighboring house where 2 adults and 2 children resided. Looking on the Allegheny County Property Assessment page, I find that there are a number of addresses in the 900 block that are city-owned. But there are also signs of potential speculators including Venture III, Inc, Gulli Construction Corp, and Greenvue Development LP. Pittsburgh has a rental registration program in place intended to try to address the problem of absentee landlords. The registration program is currently on hold pending a lawsuit resolution. But what have they proposed to deal with absentee owners? It's just as serious a problem to be a slumlord who doesn't rent their properties as one that does. I propose an anti-homestead rule. If no one is living in your property then, you have to foot extra property tax for the extra burden you're placing on your neighbors. National studies have shown that these vacant properties cause 12,000 fires per year and have greatly increased likelihood of crime taking place in and near them. We need to kick these vacant property owners to the curb, aggressively pursue the side lot program and demolish or renovate these eyesores.