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Kittanning razes condemned homes it bought at tax sale

| Friday, Aug. 29, 2014, 12:36 a.m.
Louis B. Ruediger | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Sean Westlake, 35, of Kittanning works on removing trash from a condemned house at 561 Johnston St. in Kittanning. The borough bought three rundown properties at a tax sale and have hired a contractor to raze them. Thursday August 28, 2014.

Kittanning started removing blight from neighborhoods one condemned house at a time this week.

Houses at 1350 12 Sirwell St. and 1600 Johnston St. have been torn down, and demolition has started at 561 Johnston Avenue. The borough purchased the properties at the Armstrong County tax sale in February with a goal of selling them to people who would rebuild once demolition is finished.

“One by one, we're going to make progress,” Councilwoman Kim Fox said. “It's really good for the area.”

This is the first time the borough has taken such an active role in cleaning up blighted neighborhoods, she said.

Sean Westlake and his crew from Ekaltsew Inc. in Kittanning have finished two of the demolitions and started Thursday on the third. He expects to finish tearing down the third house within two weeks.

“They were collapsed in on themselves. Now, they just need backfilled,” he said of the first two homes to go down.

Despite some surprises — including a rogue raccoon that leaped from the attic of 1600 Johnston during demolition — the project is going well, Westlake said.

“We're three houses in the right direction. It's already been a great improvement,” he said.

The borough bought seven properties at the tax sale for $1 plus $55 in deed recording fees for each. The properties included three vacant lots and four with condemned homes — one which may be salvageable.

All told, tearing down the houses cost about $10,000, Council President Randy Cloak said. Whether someone rebuilds on the properties, or a neighbor buys one to expand their yard, it's a win for the borough as long as the properties are sold.

“We'd like to return them to the tax rolls,” Cloak said.

Fox expects each lot to sell for roughly $15,000. If this summer's trial run is successful, the borough will buy and try to flip more tax sale properties.

The borough has its eye on condemned homes on Woodward and Hawthorne Streets, Fox said.

The houses — which went into the county's possession after taxes went unpaid — have been a problem for “quite some time,” Fox said. Yards became overgrown while the homes continued to crumble.

“We need to clean up blight. It's a good thing for the area,” Fox said. “We need to draw people in. We have so much here.”

Julie E. Martin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303, x 1315 or jmartin@tribweb.com.

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