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Valley News Dispatch

New Kensington targets 'maybe 100' blighted structures

| Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, 7:30 p.m.

New Kensington officials are thinking big when it comes to attacking blight in the city.

Councilman Doug Aftanas, who oversees the public safety department, including code enforcement and zoning, says the more blighted buildings, the better when it come to the $500,000 state grant the city recently received and the demolitions it could finance.

“We believe if we put out a very large package, maybe 100 buildings, that we can get some very good bids,” Aftanas said.

The thinking is that the more work that is available for a demolition contractor to do in the community, the cheaper the cost will be per building. The reasoning is that not having to transport workers and equipment for miles from one demolition to the next while dealing with only one municipal government will prompt demolition contractors to submit lower bids in trying to land the contract.

Aftanas repeated what he stated a few weeks ago, saying that the hill section of the city and the Parnassus neighborhood will be a primary focus. However, he stressed that the money from the Redevelopment Capital Assistance Program can and will be used to take care of blighted buildings across the city.

“We’re excited about this project,” Aftanas said.

New Kensington officials have been battling blight for decades, demolishing buildings in the downtown business districts and abandoned, deteriorating houses in residential neighborhoods. But they haven’t been able to do it on the scale Aftanas referred to because of the cost of demolitions and the lack of money.

What they’ve done has been financed mainly by federal Community Development Block Grants allocated for demolitions every year. But that is limited because CDBG money also must be used for other needs such as repaving or reconstructing streets.

Also, city officials said drawing down on the city’s CDBG allocation is a lengthy, involved process snarled in red tape.

In fact, Aftanas and Mayor Tom Guzzo said there is CDBG money for demolitions remaining from as far back as 2014 or 2015 because of the process. Guzzo estimates that $70,000 remains unspent just from the 2015 allocation.

They want to use that money in conjunction with the state grant to start tearing down blighted buildings the city owns first.

“There are less legalities involved because we own them,” Aftanas explained.

He said the city has a foundation to work from in compiling a list of buildings to bid because it has maintained a list of demolition targets down through the years. Meanwhile, he said code enforcement personnel have been working diligently updating the list by doing things such as title searches to help save on the “soft costs” involved in clearing buildings to be condemned and then demolished.

“We have to have all that done before we can meet as the Board of Health to condemn them and begin the legal process,” Aftanas said.

But in the end, he thinks the demolition project will be well worth the effort involved.

“You are going to see some nice things from that,” he said.

Tom Yerace is a freelance writer.

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