McKeesport Gets Aggressive with Demolitions

Some good reporting from Tube City Almanac on the efforts of McKeesport, PA, to demolish vacant and abandoned properties.



Filed under Crime, Economic Development, Good Ideas, Real Estate, regionalism, Rust Belt Blogs, sprawl, The Housing Crisis, The Media

4 responses to “McKeesport Gets Aggressive with Demolitions

  1. Pete from Baltimore

    I live and work in Baltimore City. I work at renovating old rowhouses.And i am curious as to why everybody sems to want to destroy this nation’s housing stock.

    The houses in the picture actually look very nice. The article even says that many were only recently abandoned. Maybe craackheads came in and tore out the copper plumbing. So what? Plumbing can be replaced.

    In Baltimore in the 80s there was something called the “Dollar House Program” ,where abandoned houses that the City owned were sold for a dollar witht he understanding that they would be rehabbed. An owner had to agree to live in the house for 5 years which detered speculators. The City gave the owners 1 percent home improvement loans ,all of which were paid back. So the City not only made a profit on the program but the abandoned houses were now able to be taxed.

    Many of those houses were in an area called Federal Hill. Houses in that area now go for around $500,000.

    Why dont cities enact programs like that? There are thousands of Americans that desperatly want to own a home. And our cities desperatly need property tax money. And if someone was able to buy a house like the ones in Mckeesport,cheaply they could fix it up with only a little money.

    The problem with the housing bubble wasnt that too many people bought houses. It was that too many people paid too much money for a house and went too far into debt.

    To me a” Dollar House Program ” is a win-win-win situation.

    I work on 100-150 year old rowhouses in Baltimore. The boarded up ones that you see in TV shows like “The Wire”. And almost all of them have good structure. The insides sometimes have to be demolished. But the basic structure is far better than the houses built nowdays.

    The reason that people arent buying houses like these when they go to auctions is that even though they migt be selling as cheaply as 15-30 thousand dollars , you need cash to pay for them at auctions.

    Why dont the various local ,state and federal governments figure out ways thast hard working people can buy these houses and fix them up? Instead they use tax money to tear them down. Its insane!

    Often in places like Detroit and Baltimore the problem isnt the houses. Its the crime levels. Stop the crime instead of destroying perfectly good houses.

  2. Pete, while I sympathise with your point about the value of old houses and reusing old buildings, I’m afraid you just lack lots of context here.

    McKeesport is one of the string of Mon valley steel mill towns that extended for miles down the rivers from Pittsburgh. Coal came down the river, iron ore was shipped by rail from Erie and final products, like steel plate, wire, beams, pipes and rebar were shipped out by rail to the manufacturing plants of the midwest and the cities of the east. A few other big plants existed to make glass, but mostly these were company towns revolving around mills that could employ 20,000 each. The Mon Valley as a whole had I think more than 100,000 steel workers, while the towns not far to the east made coke for the mills or mined coal. Today, only one major mill exists in the Mon Valley at Braddock much closer to Pittsburgh and it employs only about 1,000 pretty high skill workers.

    Each mill was built on the small amount of available flat land on the rivers flood plains. The geography around them is steep hills and weird valleys and for that reason the remaining residents of places like Mckeesport have a very hard time finding local jobs or getting to the jobs that do exist, closer in towards Pittsburgh.

    These were very particular places, perfectly adapted to do just one thing. Take my word for it, when people look for places to put semiconductor plants, offices or drug research facilities, flood plains on a river that still floods are not the first choice.

    Meanwhile, Pittsburgh itself has an extraordinary stock of nice cheap homes and abandoned and unloved properties of it’s own. You can still buy good homes there in some places for 25,000 or much less. 50,000 might get one a decent sized house in very nice livable condition. Allegheny county also does have a dollar house type program.

    The difference is that Pittsburgh and the areas closer into the city do are actually near a big job base. In fact, Pittsburgh at this point has the second highest percentage of people commuting into town for work in the nation–after D.C.

    At this point, I do not see a huge future for lots of these homes in Mckeesport although I hope some of the few remaining wonderful mainstreets in these towns can be saved. Yes, it’s a shame to see them go. Mckeesport, can survive but only as a much smaller place. Eventually, if Pittsburgh itself booms, I guess it might have a new day.

    By the way, many of these places were scooped up by speculators and people in some other city who hard hey could buy a $500 house. Usually, they knew nothing about the region and soon found out they had made a mistake.

  3. Good choices for folks looking for cheap housing closer to decent job bases might include–Pittsburgh, Scranton, Wilks-barre, Reading, PA, Lancaster, Indianapolis and yes Baltimore itself.

    Not all of these places have awesome local job prospects but they have strong potential to gain jobs and are close to areas with jobs.
    All were once linked by rail to NYC or Philly and might be again.

    Another very interesting prospect for pioneers is Youngstown which is moving very well to revive it’s downtown, has pretty large university, a great building stock of at least certain types and is not far from jobs in Akron or the booming area North of Pittsburgh.

    Youngstown actually has a better location than Cleveland sitting right on Route I80 and has the kind of flatter usefull land needed for manufacturing and offices.

  4. Ooops, all except Indianapolis.

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