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Battling blight

Published August 14. 2010 09:00AM

Blighted and abandoned buildings that have been neglected or left in a state of gross disrepair by property owners present a number of problems in our neighborhoods. These properties prove to be a "black eye" in our communities. Unfortunately, in many cases the taxpayers get stuck paying the cost to remediate these sites, as well as paying higher taxes to cover tax liens and unpaid utility bills.

These abandoned buildings are often a breeding ground for illegal activities, and they also present a danger to our children who may play there. As a coal region kid who loved to explore abandoned buildings, there was never a shortage of opportunities. A tragedy could have been just a step away.

To help combat blight in our area, I have introduced Senate Bill 900, known as the Neighborhood Blight Reclamation and Revitalization Act. Originally introduced by my predecessor Senator James J. Rhoades, this legislation would give municipalities more tools to prosecute owners of blighted properties and more authority to seize the assets of negligent owners. Senate Bill 900 holds property owners responsible for the municipal costs to secure, remediate or demolish blighted structures, removing this burden from local taxpayers.

This bill would also develop an education program for judges and district magistrates related to blighted and abandoned property enforcement, as well as giving counties the ability to create 'housing courts' to fight blight at the local level.

Through the efforts of the Statewide Blight Task Force, a statewide coalition of housing and municipal organizations dedicated to tackling the problems of blighted and abandoned buildings across Pennsylvania first established by Senator Rhoades, this comprehensive legislation will help to eliminate blight in our communities.

While Senate Bill 900 was unanimously approved by the Senate and is currently in the House of Representatives for its review, I am hopeful that this legislation will soon be signed into law to protect our communities and hold the individuals responsible for blight accountable for their negligence.

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