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Citing blighted Central North Side houses like fighting city hall

Thursday, June 21, 2001

By Jan Ackerman, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A row of vacant, dilapidated houses on Parkhurst Street in the Central North Side serves as a textbook example of urban blight.

Some of the doors are missing, so vagrants can camp inside, amidst garbage and debris. On the second story of one of the houses, a refrigerator appears ready to fall through the buckling floor.

Ed Payne, a member of the Central Northside Neighborhood Council, is trying to get the city to tear down a row of vacant, dilapidated houses along Parkhurst Street near Allegheny General Hospital. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

Neighbors who have tried to clean up outside the row houses have found rats, dead animals and dirty diapers in the overgrowth.

"Crack addicts have been living in them," said Ed Payne, who lives around the block on Sandusky Street, within walking distance of Allegheny General Hospital.

Earlier this month, neighbors called the Allegheny County Health Department, which cited the owner of the four units, at 112-118 Parkhurst St., for causing a nuisance and safety hazard.

But because the houses are owned by a city entity, Pittsburgh Housing Development Corp., the citations are toothless.

"When you fine a government agency, you are not accomplishing anything," John Hendzel, environmental health supervisor for the Health Department, said yesterday.

David Serafini, coordinator of Pittsburgh Housing Development Corp., a nonprofit arm of the city Urban Redevelopment Authority, said he was aware that neighbors were upset.

"As well they should be," Serafini said yesterday.

The corporation bought the four properties in 1999 for $65,000. Eventually, it plans to raze them and build three townhouses that will sell for $90,000 to $100,000 each, he said.

The houses, built in 1905, are considered historic because of their age. They can't be torn down until a series of government agencies that protect historic properties sign off on the demolitions.

The health department cited the properties June 7 for not being properly sealed and having trash inside and outside. Pittsburgh Housing Development Corp. has until tomorrow to answer the citations.

"We do not do a whole lot with vacant houses. We can't order a demolition," said Hendzel.

Serafini said he didn't know that the houses were not sealed and accessible to vagrants. He said he hopes to contract with Payne and other neighbors to board up the houses so they won't be a health hazard while the bureaucratic process churns.

Payne said the neighbors haven't been paid for $1,200 in work that they already have submitted to Serafini, with accompanying photos to prove it. He said they rented chain saws and other heavy equipment.

Serafini said they will get their money.

Hendzel said an inspector will visit the site this week and contact Serafini to determine what can be done to make the properties safe. He doesn't plan to file a complaint in city Housing Court.

"Our goal is to get this cleaned up, not to collect money in fines," Hendzel said.

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