The city kicked off demolition season yesterday, targeting an area of Homewood known as "the killing fields" and signaling what city officials called a "long-anticipated step forward" for the neighborhood.
"We made a promise to the community that these houses would come down and today we're here to make good on that promise," Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said at a press conference while standing in front of an area of dilapidated row houses with boarded up windows. "The killing fields are coming down."
Ravenstahl said the houses were condemned in 2008 and that the city "aggressively" tracked down the property owners to fix the properties. But many owners were either out of state or out of the country; they were, Ravenstahl said, "difficult to deal with and didn't want to address the issue. We had to go after them in court." In late 2011, the city said it received court authorization to demolish the properties.
Crews began demolishing the vacant houses on 610-618 Collier Street, followed by 613-619 Collier and a nearby section of Formosa Way later this spring, as asbestos is abated in the structures. Inside one of the houses, the floor boards were torn up, wooden wall panels were exposed and trash and debris were strewn about. A wooden board over the doorway was stamped with "No Trespassing By Order of Pgh Police."
The city will use "green-up strategies" for the vacant parcels, Ravenstahl said, such as community gardens and playgrounds with the ultimate goal of redevelopment. The mayor did not immediately have the cost of the demolition project but said that the city has spent $20 million to demolish more than 3,700 properties since he took office. The demolition budget for 2012 is around $3.5 million.
Both the mayor and councilman Ricky Burgess, who represents Homewood, touted their working relationship as the reason the neighborhood was selected to start demolition season.
"The mayor has made a genuine commitment to the East End, including Homewood," Burgess said. Tearing down the structures -- many of which whose bricks were crumbling and surrounded by debris -- will "start the process of rebuilding our community" as well as restoring confidence in the neighborhood, Burgess said.
The councilman said the neighborhood has been working in a consensus group for development projects and that "this is our opportunity to take advantage of a mayor, of an administration, whose concerned about us."
For 90-year-old Homewood resident Sarah Campbell, the demolition was a long-time coming. Since 1991, neighborhood groups have been trying to get blighted neighborhood properties taken down since Mayor Tom Murphy's administration.
""These are notorious buildings," said Campbell, a member of the Homewood Brushton Community Coalition. "Our police department had almost had a presence here every day."