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Blight analysis study slated

| Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, 12:36 a.m.

Delta Development Group will perform a financial impact analysis of blight for the communities that are members of three local councils of governments.

Steel Valley Council of Governments members approved the $24,750 proposal last week.

Twin Rivers and Turtle Creek Valley COGs have approved the proposal funded by grant money from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and the Pittsburgh Foundation.

“Delta Development Group is going to work with us and we are going to look at what blighted and tax delinquent properties are costing all the municipalities and all the school districts in all three COGs,” Steel Valley Council of Governments executive director An Lewis said. “We're not just looking at tax delinquency.”

She said she's requested two years worth of 911 data to find out police and fire service calls to the blighted properties.

“We're going to analyze whether or not there's an increase of fire and police,” Lewis said. “Fire and police is something that costs you money.”

She said the analysis will lay out municipality-by-municipality and school district-by-school district how much blighted properties are costing the communities. Lewis said this includes loss of property value and tax revenue, and how it changes a community's dynamics.

“It's an exciting opportunity for three COGs to work together and study the financial impact of blight on our communities and collectively develop a strategy to fight blight,” Twin Rivers Council of Governments executive director John Palyo said.

Lewis said the three COGs are looking into the feasibility of developing a land bank in the Mon Valley. Lewis said the goal of land banking is for a municipality to acquire property, hold it and then redispose of it.

“We have been working and partnering with the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, which has been one of the pioneers in leading the fight for land banking,” she said.

She said a Heinz Endowments grant to the housing alliance has allowed for attorney Irene McLaughlin to work with the three COGs on the land banking initiative for 10-15 hours a week.

“We at Steel Valley COG went to the Heinz Endowments with our partners Twin Rivers and Turtle Creek Valley asking them for $45,000 so that we can retain a consultant to help us investigate the financial feasibility of a land bank and how we could build it and sustain it,” Lewis said. “We can't start a program that is not fiscally sustainable.”

She said the COGs received tentative verbal approval from the Heinz Endowments to be funded through Twin Rivers because it has 501c3 nonprofit status.

Stacy Lee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1970, or slee@tribweb.com.

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