SCHUYLKILL COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — It’s like a disease that’ continues to spread — blight. It affects many of our neighborhoods, but what can we do about it?
The sound of heavy machinery — something that’s finally become more common in Northeastern Pennsylvania communities.
Old, decrepit houses and businesses in old coal towns are being brought down, before they come down on their own.
They’re ugly. They’re dangerous. And they’re unwanted.
“it’s disgusting,” said Korrie McAnanney, who lives next door to a blighted property.
“A big mess,” said Bob Jenson, lives near blight.
“To me, it’s a hazard,” said Mike Matter of Girardville.
“Our quality of life is really, really affected by this,” said Jim Paulaconis, lives across the street from a blighted property.
Even if you’re able to ignore it, these properties lower your property value, strain the real estate market because no one wants to live next to one, and they breed crime.
Even boarded up, people still find a way into the buildings — sometimes it can be kids, homeless people, or drug addicts.
So why are home owners letting and leaving their properties standing like this?
“It’s overwhelming,” said blighted homeowner, Will Schultz.
I spoke with Will Schultz, the homeowner of this collapsing property in Girardville.
It’s been a problem for more than six months — forcing the closure of the road as this old row home teetered on the brink of collapse.
“I mean, you just don’t know what to do. Especially when you can’t do anything, then you feel helpless,” said Will Schultz, blighted property owner.
When the house became a hazard and started leaning forward, the borough started looking for the homeowner. At first, he didn’t respond.
So the borough started charging him one-thousand dollars a day — and pressed criminal charges. That’s when Schultz stepped forward and started working with the borough to demolish it.
His excuse an all too common one – money. Initially he was told demolition would cost more than 10-thousand dollars.
“Which I cant afford,” said Schultz.
The borough was able to find someone to knock it down for three-thousand dollars — still an expense, but a much better option for Schultz.
“I’m glad it’s finally over with,” said Schultz.
The majority of blighted properties come with the challenge of tracking down the out-of-state owner. Which is why state representatives made it a priority to pass laws giving law enforcement more tools. They can now extradite owners — and make them face those neglected properties.
“In the past 10 years we’ve passed a lot of new laws for fighting blight. And we’ve also come up with some dollars,” said Senator David Argall, (R) 29th District Schuylkill/Berks counties.
That money goes into a pool which goes out as grants to small communities, who often work together to erase the blight. The grants began coming in 2017, and are in high demand. But Senator David Argall tells me it’s not just a borough or township or city problem. Its everyone’s problem.
“The best way to fight blight is to stop it before it starts,” said Argall.
He says if you see one of these properties – call your local community leaders and report it. It can be a long, tough fight in some cases.
“It’s really a situation we take block by block,” said Chris Gulotta, Schuylkill County Land Bank.
But progress is finally being made.
“I don’t know if it’s ever over. It’s a battle you need to fight everyday. But some of our communities have made major, major progress,” said Argall.
There are hundreds of thousands of blighted properties across the state. The Housing Alliance of Pennyslvnia has a blight library available online that can help residents learn how to fight blight in their communities.