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McKeesport residents voice concerns over safety, blight

| Thursday, March 20, 2014, 4:41 a.m.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko assures attendees of the city's first meeting of the Committee on Community Issues that city officials have the same concerns as city residents.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
Beech Street resident Cheryl Sears came from McKeesport's Seventh Ward to the Third Ward meeting of the Mayor's Committee on Community Issues because she is concerned about the maintenance of parklets and gardens across town.
Jennifer R. Vertullo | Daily News
During the first meeting of the Mayor's Committtee on Community Issues on Wednesday, Locust Street resident Mustapha Musa said infrastructure repairs and crime reduction are two key issues when considering improvments to McKeesport's Third Ward.

Hearing from residents who are concerned about blight and public safety, McKeesport officials hosted their first neighborhood meeting on community issues.

The gathering in the Corpus Christi Social Hall along Market Street on Wednesday evening drew few residents, likely because of chilly temperatures and light rain, but those who participated said they want to be open about their neighborhood needs.

“We are going to see if neighborhood by neighborhood we can solve issues in your community,” said Angelia Christina, the city's fair housing officer. “This is not an event. It's a process. We hope to be back here a year from now and hear that we've made a difference.”

Whether concerns are rooted in neighborhoods not getting equal attention or equal resources not being available, Christina said McKeesport officials want residents across town to have the same opportunity for a good quality of life.

Mayor Michael Cherepko's Committee on Community Issues was formed to replace the city's nonfunctional Human Relations Commission and to hear such concerns directly from residents. Monthly meetings will travel among the city's 12 wards as part of the Voluntary Compliance Agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD fair housing director Michael Jansen was in the audience.

With Wednesday's session intended to address concerns in McKeesport's First, Second and Third Wards, Christina explained how a broad spectrum of issues can relate to fair housing.

“We are here to address everything,” Cherepko said. “We are going to focus on solutions. Some will be immediate, and some we will have to work on and get back to you.”

Representatives of the city's administration, council, McKeesport Housing Authority and McKeesport Housing Corp. were on hand to hear what residents shared.

Wanting their neighborhoods to be free of drugs, prostitution and blight, Third Ward residents asked what the city is doing to clean up its streets.

Jenny Lind Street resident Lois Brown said her neighborhood is filled with abandoned structures and rundown homes occupied by senior citizens.

“I've been around for five mayors, and I've been active in this community,” Brown said. “The few people left in that neighborhood need to be treated with respect.”

In the area of Spring Street, residents said, conditions have been horrible over the past year with heavy summer rains and a harsh winter. Brown said neighbors feel the roadway and surrounding property gets worse every month, and they don't know if anything is being done to correct it.

McKeesport Area School District will be developing plans for infrastructure improvements in the area of Spring Street once the Twin Rivers Primary/Intermediate School project is complete.

Brown said better communication, such as the conversations that took place Wednesday evening, will help to ease residents' concerns because they will understand that plans are in place to improve their neighborhoods.

Residents asked for increased recreation opportunities, which could include voluntary community service projects that could beautify McKeesport's downtown neighborhoods.

Cherepko asked residents to take part in an April 26 cleanup that's in the works. He said details will be released in coming weeks as plans solidify.

Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or

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