Some of Pittsburgh’s vacant lots become dumping grounds for used tires. Others get filled with construction debris. Some are overwhelmed with knotweed, a thick and invasive species that has been a plague since Bill Harlak started cleaning lots 34 years ago.
Harlak is executive director of City Source Associates, the city’s property maintenance contractor. He attempts to keep tidy 7,200 vacant city-owned lots, plus 1,400 the Urban Redevelopment Authority owns. His dozen employees clean perhaps 2,000 lots a year, he said.
“There’s always more land,” he said.
Surplus city-owned property, whether a patch of grass or an abandoned home, drains about $5.5 million a year from the budget, according to the city planning department. The estimate includes costs to the Department of Public Works, Bureau of Building Inspection and police. A newly established land bank could reduce the cost — if it can succeed in selling abandoned properties.
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