Harrisburg’s one-man wrecking crew fighting blight

Blight at 2500 block of Agate St.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – After 18 months of begging for help with blighted homes, an Uptown Harrisburg woman is getting her wish.

Vyctoria Pitts said she was tired of seeing the same burnt, trashy debris outside several blighted properties. She took photos of the mess and sent them to the city and abc27’s Dave Marcheskie.

“They need torn down,” Pitts said. “Very, very trashy.”

Shortly after, Harrisburg began demolition work on the 2500 block of Agate Street.

According to abc27 News records, the stretch of eight row homes was destroyed in a suspicious fire September 24, 2013.

Pitts was unaware demolition work was underway, but she was elated when she saw most of the homes torn down.

“I’m very, very happy,” she said. “Even if they don’t put anything there. I’m glad they’re torn down finally.”

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Pitts questioned why it took so long for the homes to come down.

According to Dave Patton, Harrisburg’s director of codes, the answer is simple.

“[Residents have] mentioned the problem to me several times before. I did my best to try and rearrange what we could,” Patton said. “The manpower, that’s really impacting our abilities to get to any of the properties.”

How short is manpower?

“We have one specific person for demolition right now,” he said.

When possible, this worker gets help from Public Works employees. Patton said that is often tough because Public Works is dealing with potholes, street sweeping, snow removal or grass maintenance.

Patton explained the demolition department was originally a four-person crew in the late 90s and early 2000s. He said at the time, city works demolished 72 blighted properties a year.

Patton said due to budget cuts and retirement, the Department of Codes only has one man to demo roughly 30 properties a year on a $300,000 budget. He said increased tipping fees and the expensive nature of private demolition contractors force much of the city work to be performed in-house.

“We’re very cautious on how we expend those funds to make sure we get more bang for our buck,” Patton said.

Patton said he’s looking to fill two more positions to bring the demolition team up to three. The man who has spent 20 years with the city also admitted he has a personal promise to his grandmother: revitalizing the neighborhoods she grew up.

Patton said there are many roadblocks in the way of tearing down homes in Harrisburg, but he said there are plans to continue to do more. Four more homes on the other end of the block are set to be knocked down in the near future.

After Patton announced the demolition plans to the neighborhood during a meeting, he said there was uproar of applause.

This proves that with every blighted property ripped down, the community spirits are built up.

“I thank you for getting them torn down,” Pitts said.

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