PA taking new measures in bipartisan fight against blight

Ed Gruver//June 1, 2023

Derelict and decaying properties are being replaced by new housing as Pennsylvania’s House and Senate work to fight blight. PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

PA taking new measures in bipartisan fight against blight

Ed Gruver//June 1, 2023

Pennsylvania is stepping up its fight against blight and doing so in bipartisan fashion. 

The state House Housing and Community Development Committee unanimously approved last week a bill sponsored by Pennsylvania Rep. Bob Merski, D-Erie, to help municipalities fight blight. House Bill 225 would allow local governments to cooperate with one another to address blight and establish a fund to support enforcement efforts. 

HB 225 heads to the House chamber for consideration. 

Merski said in a statement that Gov. Josh Shapiro has proposed revitalizing communities via new projects, and those investments can transform Pennsylvania communities. 

“But we need to lay the groundwork by eliminating the blighted, abandoned properties that invite crime and deter investment,” said Merski. “My bill would allow communities to join forces in fighting blight and would bolster those efforts by providing the additional resources needed to enforce code violations.” 

To fund new code enforcement programs and the hiring of enforcement officers, HB 255 would create a grant program administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development. 

From blight to housing 

 Sen. Dave Argall, R-Carbon/Luzerne/Schuylkill, received an award from the Association of Community Development Corporations for transforming blighted buildings into housing. 

Argall credited the bipartisan work of government and volunteers for revitalizing Pennsylvania communities by ridding them of decaying and derelict buildings. 

“One of the biggest issues we face is the need to transform more blighted properties into new housing,” he said. 

Argall’s legislation this year to increase funding for demolition earned bipartisan approval by the Senate Urban and Housing Committee. In 2016 he sponsored Act 152, legislation allowing counties to raise money for demolition programs. The program enlists 25 counties and has raised millions of dollars to tear down hundreds of blighted buildings. In 2022, Argall introduced legislation to make the demolition programs permanent. 

Argall’s work to combat blight includes creating housing for seniors from a blighted building and an empty lot; demolishing the shell of a burned-out factory and converting it into 36 housing units for seniors; restoring the upper floors of vacant buildings into housing units; and transforming unused upper floors of buildings into apartment units.