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City having hard time tackling blighted properties
The numbers are surprising: 1,600 vacant properties in the City of Johnstown. Officials say they're having a hard time finding out who owns some of them. It really becomes a problem when the properties become classified as blighted which means they could be harmful to the community.
The city codes department tells 6 News they've been able to tear down 57 properties in the last 18 months, but they've certainly got a long way to go.
Amidst heavy criticism from residents who say they're sick of the eyesores, 6 News talked with the codes department Wednesday to see what's really being done.
The department keeps busy, issuing violations against the owners of blighted properties all year, but it can be a lengthy process until anything is done.
"Every code violation can last up to a month before anything can be taken to the magistrate," said Johnstown city code enforcement officer Leroy Palov.
The properties in deplorable shape, the ones that are uninhabitable, get condemned.
"If you're caught inside the property you will be arrested," said Palov.
6 News asked why there are hundreds of those properties left sitting in the city for years.
"It's not just in the city, it's in every township, every municipality," said Renee Daly, director of community and economic development. "We all have to deal with it and we all have the same issues."
One of the biggest issues the city says it faces is the limited funding it receives. The codes department says there's only $100,000 allotted for demolition.
"$25,000 has to be put aside for emergency demos, fires that have no insurance, those that could become health and safety issues to the public and neighbors," said code enforcement officer Samuel Barber. "So realistically we have $70,000."
And with the cost of demolition averaging about $10,000 a property, the city only has enough to tear down about seven each year.
"We go through and find out what we think is the worst scenario first cause we want to tear the houses down that are in the immediate danger to the public and the welfare of the public," said Barber.
A recently-created Facebook page brings attention to the growing list of blighted properties plaguing the Greater Johnstown area. While officials wish they could do more, they say they're just glad to see people taking initiative.
"It shouldn't necessarily be looked upon as a negative thing," said Daly. "It's not the city's fault, we can only do so much, but it's nice to see that property owners in the neighborhoods are taking ownership and trying to do something."
City officials said another big issue lies with the property owners, many of whom live outside of town. They said not only is it a laboring task to track some of those owners down, they say it can be nearly impossible to require them to travel to Johnstown and go to court.