Pa. House panel approves scourge bill | Friday morning coffee
Legislation that would help communities across the state fight the blight is heading to the House floor.
On Wednesday, the House Housing and Community Development Committee voted 21 to 0 to approve Rep. Bob Merski, D-Erie’s bill allowing city governments to team up to fight the blight.
The bill would, among other things, establish a new grant program, administered by the state Department of Community and Economic Development, that would help pay for the hiring of new code enforcement officers and strengthen programs. existing ones, the northwest Pennsylvania lawmaker said in a statement. .
“The focus of this grant is to upgrade or remove dilapidated, abandoned, and structurally unsafe structures and dwellings,” Merski wrote in a Feb. 1 memo asking for legislative support for his proposal.
“A municipality that obtains a grant must provide municipal funds equal to the amount of the state grant; moreover, a municipality can only receive this subsidy for [three] consecutive years,” the lawmaker wrote.
Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro delivers his first budget speech during a joint session of the State House and Senate on March 7, 2023 (photo by Amanda Mustard for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star).
In his first budget address to the General Assembly in March, Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro incorporated a number of community revitalization initiatives into his proposed $44.4 billion spending plan for the new fiscal year that begins on 1st of July.
This included injecting new funds into the state’s Keystone Communities program, which encourages public-private partnerships to help neighborhoods grow and prosper, PennLive reported in March.
The Democratic Governor underscored his support for such efforts during his inaugural address, telling his audience that “we walked together down our main streets and I listened to you,” during the 2022 campaign, and “I heard your stories,” according to PennLive.
On Thursday, Merski said his legislation would complement the administration’s efforts.
“The governor has proposed new investments in community revitalization, and these projects can be transformative for Erie and other communities,” Merski said. “But we need to lay the groundwork by removing derelict and derelict properties and deterring investment.”
The floor of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (photo by Amanda Mustard for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star).
According to a 2013 study by a trio of government councils in western Pennsylvania, blight — in all its forms — is having a real impact on community outcomes across the state.
If left untreated, the burn can lead to:
Higher vacancy rates in degraded blocks, higher maintenance costs and uncollected taxes. A cycle of disinvestment that discourages new private investment in the areas where it takes place. Lower property values.
“By all accounts, vacant properties are a curse. Just ask anyone who lives next to a drug den, closed fire trap, or trash-filled lot,” the National Vacant Properties Campaign concluded in a 2005 report.
“But abandonment often seems to be beyond the control of local officials, and it rarely engenders a sense of urgency beyond neighbors on the block where it occurs,” the report’s authors wrote at the time. “But the evidence shows that vacant properties are an expense that local governments simply cannot afford – and that the expense increases every year a property remains vacant or derelict.”
On Thursday, Merksi offered a similar sentiment — and her help.
“My bill would allow communities to join forces in the fight against the scourge and would strengthen those efforts by providing the additional resources” they need to fight code violations, he said.