City Of Wilkes-Barre Partners With Florida-Based Management Company To Enforce Registry Of Blighted Properties

WILKES-BARRE, PA — City officials on Monday announced an agreement with a Florida-based management company to maintain a database of the city’s ballooning number of blighted properties. The database will also allow residents to submit locations of abandoned properties on the city’s website.

The partnership comes at no cost to taxpayers, said Andrew LaFratte, municipal affairs manager.

LaFratte said Community Champions, formed in 2008, will receive half of every $200 registration fee the city gets when a vacant property is registered. An ordinance enacted in 2010 initially proposed an incremental charge for vacant properties, ranging from $150 the first year to more than $5,000 for a property vacant more than 10 years.

Community Champions will be charged with establishing the database and populating it with parcel data. Once the tool is live, LaFratte said, city officials will be trained on it. LaFratte said the entire process will likely be completed within a month.

Read more:

http://www.timesleader.com/news/local-news-news/153022937/Blight-registry-in-new-hands

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Blight Poses Challenges For Distressed Cities

Locator map of the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Metro...

Locator map of the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre Metropolitan Statistical Area in the northeastern part of the of . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scranton is a city of 76,000 people with a housing stock largely built before 1940 for a population almost twice that number.

It has the blight to prove it.

As the financially strapped city struggles to combat blight and the host of ills it fosters, Scranton finds itself in a position common among many Rust Belt communities: many old buildings, too few people willing or able to keep them up and limited resources to press aggressively for a comprehensive solution.

The region’s other two major cities, Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton, are dealing with similar issues, though their circumstances don’t precisely mirror Scranton’s.

Read more: http://citizensvoice.com/news/blight-poses-challenges-for-distressed-cities-1.1744585

Blame For Blighted Properties In Monessen Reaches Across Globe

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Westmoreland ...

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Westmoreland County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mayor Lou Mavrakis drove slowly through Monessen, block by block, pointing out one vacant, blighted building after another in the city of 7,700 along the Monongahela River.

“That belongs to me,” he said, pointing to a house with a collapsing roof that has become the responsibility of the city and the mayor.

Tax records show the building is one of 264 structures and lots in the city that have been abandoned by their owners. More than 26 percent of the city’s 734 blighted properties are owned by people from 24 states and five foreign countries, beyond the legal reach of Monessen officials.

“It’s almost impossible to get in touch with these owners,” Mavrakis said.

Read more: http://triblive.com/news/westmoreland/6562693-74/property-owners-monessen#ixzz3ACc2e4tx
Follow us: @triblive on Twitter | triblive on Facebook

Dog Fighting In Pottstown: A Tragic Result Of Government Negligence…

EDITORIAL

Pottstown Borough Hall

Pottstown Borough Hall

Our scuz-busting friend, the Golden Cockroach, has more horrific news about the results of the absentee extractive investors who have taken over large numbers of properties in Pottstown.  These folks buy up homes for “cents on the dollar” and rent them to anybody who will pay their rent in “cash”, **wink, wink. The properties are not maintained and the tenants are left to run wild and terrorize their neighbors.

The typical absentee extractive investor lives in a large suburban home, in a township where mostly upper middle class white folk congregate.  They take their wads of “rental cash” and do “fun stuff” like take vacations to tropical locations with municipal employees (who also make wads of cash thanks to the overburdened taxpayers in Pottstown).  While these folks are sunbathing, and having drinks with little umbrellas in them, back at the ranch all hell is breaking loose.  OR when they aren’t sunbathing and having funky beverages south of the border, they are at home in their virtually crime-free suburban communities reading about Pottstown’s ills in the Mercury.

Meanwhile, Pottstown is falling apart and these rental properties are crumbling off their foundations. HOWEVER, unless “I” live next to a problem rental property it’s not my problem.  These properties somehow pass inspection, they are somehow issued occupancy permits and everybody is happy.  Well, except for the people who live in Pottstown and are being terrorized by these tenants who aren’t properly vetted before being allowed to occupy said rental properties.  But again, unless it directly impacts me, it’s not my problem.  RIGHT?

Apparently, this is the attitude emanating from Pottstown Borough Hall.  This attitude comes across loud and clear when you read the latest post from the Golden Cockroach.  You should be utterly incensed by the complete disregard for the residents of Pottstown.  This stunning information confirms what we have always thought.   The fact that it was said out loud by a municipal employee makes us sick.

The result of this blatant contempt for Pottstown is crime.  Evidently, we can now add dog fighting to the list of heinous crimes being perpetrated in Pottstown and ignored by the very folks who are paid to look after the interests of the taxpayers.  Why?  Because many municipal employees do not live in Pottstown and these problems do not impact their quality of life.  Ergo, it’s not my problem.  They can read the Mercury on their iPad while they sip their morning latte from the safety of their suburb.  After reading about “life in Pottstown” they can head into the office for another fun-filled day of work “screw over the taxpayer” behind bullet-proof glass.  We think that’s a game like “pin the tail on the donkey” but we aren’t 100 percent sure.  Can you hear them cackling as they drive over the borough line with their big fat paychecks?

So we have people with virtually no interest in seeing Pottstown revitalize running the show.  These same people are allowing absentee extractive investors to make large profits at the expense of the fine folks who do live in Pottstown (and who pay very high taxes for these stellar municipal services brought to you by people who don’t give a shit crap).

Crime is running rampant and no matter now many miniature golf courses you build, you are still putting lipstick on a pig.  Don’t get us wrong, miniature golf is fun and we expect to try it out soon, however there are far more important issues that need to be addressed.  CRIME and JOBS should be the TOP priority of the municipal government.  The job market should be high and crime should be low!  It’s ass-backwards in Pottstown!  It’s time for the taxpayers to say “enough” and hold these co-perpetrators accountable for Pottstown’s ruination.

Please take a few minutes to read Golden Cockroach’s latest post.  Please watch the video about the animal abuse and dog fighting if you haven’t already seen it.  The video is included in the post for your convenience.

CLICK HERE:  http://goldencockroach.wordpress.com/2014/07/18/dog-fighting-in-pottstown-a-tragic-result-of-govt-negligence/

A Must See Video About A Rental Unit In Pottstown – Contains Adult Language

New Rules Put In Place At Sherman Hills?

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WILKES-BARRE, PA— New security measures are reportedly set to go into place at the Sherman Hills where two young girls were shot in the latest case of violent crime at the apartment complex.

An e-mail outlining some of the rules to go into effect on Oct. 1 was sent to The Times Leader Wednesday, but they were not able to be confirmed.

According to the e-mail, among the steps to be taken are: tenants must provide a driver’s license and paperwork to receive a parking sticker; vehicles must be registered to tenants; visitors must receive a pass issued by the office in order to park in the visitors’ lot; visitors must present photo identification to obtain a pass; businesses delivering groceries, food or prescriptions must have two people in the delivery vehicle so one can stay in it to prevent it from being towed.

Residents say they received flyers on their doors informing them of their new rules, TV reports state.

Read more: http://www.timesleader.com/news//809848/New-rules-put-in-place-at-Sherman-Hills

Wilkes-Barre Council OKs ‘One-Strike’ Rental Ordinance

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WILKES-BARRE — One strike.  Two readings.  Three speakers.

Mayor Tom Leighton’s plan to crack down on problem rental properties in Wilkes-Barre passed a second and final reading during a special council session Thursday night attended by a handful of residents, of whom only three spoke about the “one-strike” amendment to the city’s rental ordinance.

The ordinance will allow officials to shut down a property for six months if landlords and tenants know of criminal activity on the premises and fail to alert authorities.  It will take effect Sept. 1.

“The intent is not to penalize landlords, but to increase dialogue,” said assistant city solicitor William E. Vinsko Jr., who drafted the legislation, which he called “another tool to curb drug activity and violence.”

Read more: http://www.timesleader.com/article/20130823/NEWS/130829985

Wilkes-Barre Lists 51 Rental Properties Cited By Code Enforcement

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

WILKES-BARRE — A day after council took the first step to approve an amendment toughening the city’s rental ordinance, the code enforcement office listed more than 5o citations to property owners over a four-month period.

More than half of the 51 properties have out-of-town owners, a point stressed by Mayor Tom Leighton when he proposed the amendment to crack down on problem properties contributing to the rise in violent crime.

City spokeswoman Liza Prokop said the timing of the release of the list was unrelated to the pending amendment.

In an e-mail Wednesday she said, “It is standard practice for the city to release information on code violations.”

Read more: http://www.timesleader.com/news/local-news/754179/City-lists-51-rental-properties-cited-by-code-enforcement

Man Killed In Wilkes-Barre Shooting

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Luzerne County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A party at 174 S. Grant St. in Wilkes-Barre came to an abrupt halt around 1:20 a.m. Sunday when shooting resulted in the death of a 24-year-old in the backyard.

Police were called to the house on a report of a “large fight with shots fired” and found Vaughn Kemp lying motionless in the backyard.

Kemp, a black man who lived a few blocks away on Park Avenue, was transported to Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Plains Township, where he was pronounced dead.

An autopsy concluded Kemp died from multiple gunshot wounds, said Luzerne County Deputy Coroner Dan Hughes.

Read more:  http://www.timesleader.com/news/local-news/658426/Man-killed-in-W-B-shooting

Renovo Citizens Criticize Police, Seek Answers

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Clinton County

Map of Pennsylvania highlighting Clinton County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

RENOVO, PA – The Renovo Police Department came under fire at this week’s borough council meeting, with citizens charging that there’s a lack of accountability and job performance among officers.

The Wednesday night session became a sounding board for a group of about 20 mostly long-term Renovo residents who believe the department is not doing its job properly, and council is not providing sufficient oversight.

The complaints also come just months after South Renovo Borough dropped shared police coverage by the Renovo officers, saying they didn’t believe the neighboring borough just across the West Branch of the Susquehanna River was getting its money’s worth.

Read more:  http://www.lockhaven.com/page/content.detail/id/544725/Renovo-citizens-criticize-police–seek-answers.html?nav=5009

Playing With Philadelphia’s Tax Money

Editor’s note:  Here’s another reason they call Pottstown “little Philadelphia“.   Just change out Philadelphia with Pottstown.  Same problems, just a smaller scale but equally as devastating to the residents of both communities.

Philadelphia’s decades-long neglect of property-tax collections has been a disaster for public schools, the city budget, and typical taxpaying homeowners.

But the system does have its advantages for low-rent landlords, out-of-town speculators, and anyone else interested in playing property Powerball, a game where the objective is to pile up real estate in hope of hitting a gentrification jackpot, while keeping out-of-pocket expenses – like taxes – as low as possible.

Some are big winners, such as the investor who picked up three adjacent Northern Liberties lots in 1994 for a combined $16,000, skipped paying taxes on the lots for more than a decade, and made good on the debt only after flipping the parcels for $750,000 in 2010.

Such speculative windfalls are rare, but it’s not for lack of trying.  Of the roughly 100,000 tax-delinquent properties in Philadelphia, at least 57,500 are owned by investors, not occupants. These are parcels deeded to suburbanites and Floridians, developers and Brooklyn-based holding companies, small-time local speculators and real estate tycoons with dozens of properties to their name.

Read more:

http://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/city/20130311_Playing_with_the_city_s_tax_money.html

An Editorial Follow Up – Activist Invites Pottstown Council To See Poor Living Conditions In Permitted Rental

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County

Location of Pottstown in Montgomery County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Saturday, June 30th, the Mercury published a piece on Pottstown’s first Open Slum House Tour. Members of Pottstown Borough Council were invited to come and see first hand the horrific living conditions in a rental unit at 501 King Street.  The rental unit was issued a permit by Pottstown’s Codes Department. 

An open house was held on Saturday afternoon from 2:00pm to 3:30pm and hosted by Katy Jackson, a King Street resident and community activist.

What I am about to report is typical and totally disheartening.  Only one Borough Councilor showed up!  Fifth Ward Councilor Dan Weand!  Councilor Weand was accompanied by his wife Polly (a Pottstown School Board member).  John Armato, Pottstown School District Director of Community Relations also attended the open house.  Thank you Dan, Polly and John for taking time out of your Saturday to give a damn about Pottstown!

(The elephants in the room)

  1. Where in the hell was Pottstown Borough Council President, Steven Toroney or First Ward Councilor Mark Gibson, whose ward contains the offending property????????????????? 
  2. Pottstown’s Codes Department apparently deemed this property A-OK and issued a permit for the owner to rent the property.  Considering the horrific state of the property in question, does this not make you wonder exactly what metrics borough codes employees are using?  Would you want to live in a house of horrors like this?  Is this not a huge red flag that there might be a problem?  Is this not indicative of a broken process? 
  3. As an elected official, whose job it is to serve the taxpayers of Pottstown, taking an hour out of your Saturday to get first hand knowledge of a serious problem should be a top priority.  It would have been prudent to notify Mrs. Jackson that you had a prior commitment that precluded your attendance so as not to appear indifferent to the plight of the people who elected you into office!

Based on the pictures and description of the property, it sounds like it should be condemned and torn down, not given a rental permit!

Steve, if you aren’t up to the task of being Pottstown Borough Council President, we think you should step down.  We see no evidence of leadership, no vision and no way forward being presented.  Sitting in your North End home and ignoring everything south of Wilson Street isn’t much of a strategy. 

Pottstown is spiraling out of control.  Key employees are leaving, councilors are resigning, crime is high, poverty is high, slumlords and Section 8 housing are pulling Pottstown down while property and school taxes go up, up, up…  Is the goal here to become the next Pennsylvania community accepted into the Act 47 program for financially distressed municipalities?

There was just a home invasion in the 800 block of Queen Street.  There are too many shootings.  There are hookers and drug dealers lurking in the alleys of the core neighborhood.  There are tumbleweeds blowing down High Street.  Borough Council does not support the few struggling businesses downtown nor does Pottstown enforce laws for loitering and panhandling which deter shoppers, diners and theatre patrons.  There is a homeless problem you refuse to deal with and the list goes on and on.

Pottstown deserves a Borough Council who is willing and ABLE to lead the community down the road to prosperity.  Those who can’t should step aside and let those who can DO! 

Sticking one’s head in the sand and ignoring all the warning signs is not what you were elected into office to do.  People expect action.  People expect and want change for the better.  Status quo is not an option.  Neither is taxing people to the point of having to choose between paying taxes or buying food and medicine.  Look at all the for sale signs around town.  Look at the abandoned properties where homeowners have simply walked away.  All is not well!  Get a clue!

Either lead or get out-of-the-way!

Before Fire, 15 Lived In Reading Home With No Water, Toilets

A 1947 topographic map of the Reading, Pennsyl...

Image via Wikipedia

The city has placarded as unfit for human habitation a fire-damaged row home in the 800 block of Greenwich Street.

The placarding is for damage from the Monday morning fire, but city codes manager Ron Natale said Thursday the home must remain vacated until numerous issues are resolved.

The home, filled with trash and mattresses, was an illegal rental, with no working toilets, no water service and no kitchen facilities, Natale and other city officials said.

Read more: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=362692

A Petition To Control Blight In Pottstown

If you are interested in building a better Pottstown, please click on the link below and sign the petition to control blight!  The petition will go to the following people:

  • Governmental persons that can control blight in Pottstown, PA! (Pottstown Judges and Pottstown Codes Dept.)
  • PA State House (Rep. Tom Quigley)
  • PA State Senate (Senator John Rafferty)
  • Agency responsible for subsidized housing violations (Montgomery County Housing Authority)

http://www.change.org/petitions/governmental-persons-that-can-control-blight-in-pottstown-pa-prosecute-slumlords-within-the-pottstown-borough-using-pa-state-law-act-90?utm_medium=facebook&utm_source=share_petition&utm_term=own_wall

Pottstown Civic Activists Stage Rally Against Deadbeat Slumlords On King Street

Teri Lyn Jensen-Sellers and Katy Jackson, both neighborhood residents, organized a rally today to protest “landlord” Andrew Soule’s $10,000+ in back payments for sewer/water/trash to the Borough of Pottstown and the condition of his buildings in the 400 block of King Street.  Reporters from The Mercury, The Pottstown Patch and Roy’s Rants were on hand to document the effort of this group to draw attention to this huge problem plaguing Pottstown.  Absentee landlords with blighted properties and overdue bills are straining Pottstown’s already stressed tax base.

The Borough of Pottstown is owed over $700,000 in back water/sewer/trash payments from 200 people.  The top 10 people on the Pottstown Wall of Shame owe nearly $200,000.  As Pottstown Borough Manager Jason Bobst has stated, “It’s all the same people that we see time and time again.”  Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski uses the Hall of Shame tactic in Allentown very successfully.  Mrs. Jackson recently attended a webinar on this subject hosted by Allentown’s mayor to learn more about how other towns and cities are coping with this problem.

Mr. Soule was evidently on the scene when the first protestors appeared, but left upon their arrival.  Mrs. Jensen-Sellers questioned a man but he denied being Andrew Soule.  A neighbor stated it was Mr. Soule after the man departed.

Sixth Ward Councilor and Man of the People, Jody Rhoads was on the scene as the sole representative of Pottstown Borough leadership along with Gallery on High/Gallery School co-founder Cathy Paretti and Andrew Monastra, a real estate lawyer with an office in the borough.  A Code Blue member was in attendance as well as other concerned borough residents.

I interviewed two former tenants of Mr. Soule, both of whom had unpleasant dealings with the landlord.

Both Mrs. Paretti and Mr. Monastra shared their feelings about doing business in Pottstown and the challenges of being a business owner here.  Both see the potential Pottstown has to offer but understand that many things need to change before Pottstown can follow in Phoenixville’s footsteps.

Pottstown’s New Citizen Codes Inspector Program

Quality of Life improvements in the Borough of Pottstown are high on the agenda these days.  Improving the experience of living in Pottstown is a key element in the revitalization process.  To that end, the Borough Manager found a program that tackles a long-standing problem here in Pottstown – codes!  Blighted properties and abuses by absentee landlords have plagued our town for decades.  In order to clean up the mess and make Pottstown more attractive to current residents, prospective residents and commercial/business interests, our Codes Department needs more bodies on the streets.

The Citizen Codes Inspector Program takes borough residents, in good standing, and trains them to assist the Codes Department personnel by identifying and reporting code violations.  Here is a partial list of the qualifications for a Citizen Code Inspector:

-Residency in the borough

-General good health

-Reading/writing/comprehension capabilities

-No outstanding violations/citations with the Borough of Pottstown in areas of parking, legal, codes, water, sewer, trash or taxes.

-Good communication skills

-Ability/desire to walk some distance on borough streets and alleyways

The Borough Manager and the Codes Department personnel will be responsible for selecting those individuals who have applied for these positions.

The Citizen Codes Inspector is a volunteer (unpaid) position.  The goal is to find borough residents who wish to become involved and make a difference in the community by volunteering their time to assist the Codes Department.  Programs similar to this are already in place in other municipalities in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and have been very successful.  The Borough Manager researched this program thoroughly before recommending it to Pottstown Borough Council for approval.

The training program will last four weeks and require about 7 hours to complete.  The first phase is 2-4 hours of classroom training and the second phase is 2-3 hours of field experience with a Codes Department employee.  During phase two (field experience) the trainee will practice writing up reports and have them reviewed by their Codes Department trainer.

The third phase is a debriefing and group session to do a final review and answer questions.

Safety of the Citizen Codes Inspector is paramount and there are systems in place to ensure this.  Citizen Inspectors will be given identification and some sort of apparel to help identify them.  The Pottstown Police Department will be made aware when these inspections are taking place.  Citizen Inspectors will not enter private property.  Inspections will be made from the public right-of-way to minimize any confrontations between the Citizen Inspectors and property owners.

If you live in the Borough of Pottstown and would like to volunteer your time to make a difference, click on the link below.  You can read the entire article I have summarized and fill out an application to become a Citizen Codes Inspector.

http://www.pottstown.org/PDF/forms/citizen-codes-inspector-application.pdf

Many thanks to Jason Bobst, Pottstown Borough Manager, for finding a creative solution to a big problem that does not require raising taxes or adding staff!

Bucks County Borough Takes A Tough Stand On Rental Properties

The small borough of Trumbauersville, Bucks County, is ensuring their rental properties are up to snuff!  Trumbauersville Council has approved annual rental inspections and property owners are required to have a residential rental license (yes, there is  fee) for each unit.  Much larger Quakertown has similar ordinances on their books.  Trumbauersville is located in Milford Township over near Quakertown.

These new regulations are a direct result of problems which have been reported to the borough and in some cases involved out-of-town property owners (absentee landlords).  There are 50 rental properties in this .4 square mile borough of 1059 souls.

Recently, a fire inspection of a vacant rental property found maggots in the refrigerator and 5 dump trucks full of trash inside.  The Code Enforcement Officer will use a checklist and report his findings to the property owner who in turn has a set amount of time to make corrections or appeal them to Borough Council.

This ordinance has some teeth to it (imagine that).  Landlords living more than 20 miles from town must has a property manager living or working within 20 miles of the borough or a license will not be granted.  If tenants have three disruptive conduct reports on file within a twelve month period, they will be evicted (disruptive conduct includes public drunkenness and fighting for example).  Violations of the new ordinance can lead to fines or imprisonment!

Some food for thought if we are serious about cleaning up slumlord and rental property issues in Pottstown.  If tiny Trumbauersville can do it, why can’t Pottstown!?!

Unpaid Bills Must Be Collected

Pottstown Borough and School District have unpaid property taxes and other bills that are enough to balance the budget deficit.  For some unknown reason, we are not aggressively collecting these funds.  School Board member Michele Pargeon wanted to know who has the power?  I hope we get an answer to this question and somebody gives a green light to go after this money. 

Why should absentee landlords and deadbeats make our taxes go up and cause employees to be laid off because we are unable to balance the borough and school district budgets?  Inquiring minds want to know.

It is time to get tough and collect this money or start property foreclosures, deny occupancy permits, turn of water and sewer services etc…  Stop making the majority suffer for the bad behavior of a few people.  Everybody is suffering because we will not punish a few bad apples.  This is not a fair and equitable way to handle problems.

Time for a new game plan folks!  This one ain’t workin’!

Check Out This Article About Absentee Landlords In Pottstown

This is a great article (as always) from SavePottstown! regarding the absolutely blood-boiling problem that has plagued Pottstown as long as I have lived here.  That problem being absentee landlords who don’t pay their damn bills!

http://savepottstown.com/2010/04/the-deadbeat-club-case-study-1/

It’s time to get tough.  Great investigative reporting and a hat tip to my friends at SavePottstown!  Go get ’em!