Upkeep of properties frustrates Irwin neighbors

| Wednesday, July 9, 2014, 9:01 p.m.

Run-down properties near her Palmetto Street home prompted Sally Lust and several neighbors to complain to Irwin officials.

“These properties are not just eyesores; they're a health hazard,” Lust, who has lived on the street for 27 years, told officials. “There are rats, there are feral cats, and who knows what else they will attract to the area? It's a mess.”

Brian Yost, of nearby Grant Avenue, joined Lust in complaining to officials about properties with broken windows, awnings falling off, uncut weeds and trash strewn in the yards.

“It's very frustrating for people who put a lot of effort into keeping their properties nice only to have homes nearby that drag the neighborhood down,” Yost said.

After hearing the complaints last month, council President Robert Wayman said the borough would “aggressively pursue” the issue.

Since then, things are changing. Yost last week said there are signs that whatever action the borough has been taking appears to be working.

“Things are starting to improve,” Yost said. “The grass has been cut and some of the trash picked up, so I'm hopeful things will continue moving in the right direction.”

Jim Halfhill, the borough's public-works superintendent, said officials have been filing complaints at the local district judge's office against those who violate the local property maintenance rules.

“When we know who the property owner is, it's usually enough to get them to clean things up once they realize that they will have to go to court,” Halfhill said. “But it's a lot more difficult in the case of properties that have been abandoned because of foreclosures.”

Solicitor Todd Turin said the process of identifying the owner of a foreclosure property poses a dilemma not exclusive to Irwin.

“It's a national problem,” he said. “The banks don't want to incur the additional cost of another transfer when a property is in foreclosure. So if we try to initiate a lawsuit, we have an individual who has been divested of the property because of the foreclosure and a bank that has not been willing to take title. So the property just sits there.”

Halfhill said Irwin doesn't have the resources to maintain abandoned properties.

“We can go out and make the first cut and clean up the property, but we try to work with neighbors to get them to help out,” he said. “It's unfair to the neighbors, but we don't have the manpower to do it on a regular basis.”

Wayman said borough officials will consider participating in a county land bank program to help address the problem.

“I don't know if something like the land bank will benefit us, but we should at least invite them here to listen to what they have to say,” Wayman said.

Administered by the Westmoreland County Redevelopment Authority, the program takes the lead in acquiring blighted properties so they can be rehabilitated and sold, demolished or redeveloped. Participating communities pay $5,000 and agree to give up half of the taxes collected from rehabilitated properties for five years.

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