Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ice + Abandonment = Bad

Tom O's piece in Trib today on abandoned mortgages got me thinking of a few things.  My colleague Sabina wrote about the related and larger issue of vacant properties in the city (see page 6) and region.   Plug into that whole story the recent weather and what do you get?

Seriously.  I was joking about the roofers...  yet it wasn't a joke.  Think about the damage that has been done to a lot of local property in the recent weeks because of the weather.   Then consider what has been happening to all the vacant property in the region, much of which is already in serious need of repair.  We have some serious concentrations of vacant and/or effectively abandoned real estate in certain neighborhoods and communities in the the region.   It's one thing for damage in a home where someone makes repairs in a timely manner.  What is going to happen to all the properties that have experiecned this once in a generation damage yet will have no repairs made?   What is moderate damage could easily be magnified into some serious depreciation, if not irreparable damage pretty quickly.

I don't have a solution for any of that... but the uniqueness of our situation in terms of the age of our homes (oldest in the nation by many metrics), the concentration of vacancy in certain areas and the magnitude of the storm all lead to a very bad outcome.   and because the circumstances are so unique it is one of those things that people are not really thinking about. It's one of those unquantifyable things, but you have to wonder what the sheer value of depreciation resulting from the storm(s) has been on local property and how it compares to other events.  The bottom line is that the mass of unmarketable homes currently sitting in the region may become truly unmarketable as a result of all of this. 


and just reading the article on vacancy reminds me of something related to the earlier article there.  If you are interested I think we have created the world's most boring podcast.   Click and Clack don't need to watch their six.


Anonymous johnnyg said...

I've been suggesting for a long time that many blighted neighborhoods need to be abandoned. Like the abandoned mills that have largely been torn down or repurposed already, they are remnants of an immigrant, poor Pittsburgh that doesn't exist any longer. I imagine the only reason they haven't is that our topography places Lincoln-Lemmington or Braddock (two examples, and not the only ones) just far enough off the beaten track to allow us not to see the devastation (really) in those communities. It appears that Mother Nature just gave my suggestion a nod.

Sunday, February 28, 2010 9:04:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

I'm with johnnyg. The storm did its damage (my house included), but if nobody is living in the house, I don't see the problem beyond maybe a safety issue.

Sunday, February 28, 2010 9:12:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Gotta ask yourself what that means. Abandonment in itself solves nothing right? I'm sure we are not dying to have new urban prairies created with no other plan. Abandonment is what is causing the problem, not the solution.

So what to do? Land Banking?

Sunday, February 28, 2010 9:15:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

Abandonment followed by demolition solves some problems. For one thing, you don't have to maintain infrastructure. Of course, you don't get urban prairies when you abandon a lot here. The trees take-over, so it will even look nice.

Sunday, February 28, 2010 9:45:00 AM  
Anonymous johnnyg said...

It's time that we've had that discussion. Immigrant families (especially Italian), once they had a little bit of coin, moved on from Lincoln-Lemmington to Penn Hills, Plum and beyond. The groups who replaced them--largely striving African Americans--now appear to be following in the same pattern. I don't blame them; everyone has their right to the American Dream of a house with a little lot and the white picket fence. The housing stock was not built to last forever, especially with little or no maintenance. And providing services to these areas of the region must be unbelievably costly.

I was suggesting that we need to have a conversation about what to do. I neighborhoods that I'm thinking of are largely abandoned already. Maybe we do land bank. Maybe we consider urban farms and forests the way that Detroit is. But avoiding the conversation doesn't make it go away.

The Groupthink when I arrived in Pittsburgh 15 years ago was that the industrial mill areas were forever doomed to be blighted. While it took a lot of work (and government support), the Waterfront, SouthSide Works, Tech Center, Somerset at Frick Park, now flourish. I know that you intensely dislike those places--and I'm not saying they are the right answer--but we need to have the conversation.

Who says that an entire Hill District that looks like Crawford Square wouldn't be successful?

Sunday, February 28, 2010 9:47:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

Also, destroying some cheap housing should raise the price of (or slow the decline in value of) other cheap housing. Push over enough cheap housing and what is left becomes worth enough to maintain better.

Sunday, February 28, 2010 9:48:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I think the conversation has been going on for some time. It's not easy. You've seen some of it evolve into more concrete things in recent years. TRF work classifiying Pittsburgh neighborhoods is all focused on this. The attempt to reintegrate a regular street grid in East Liberty is one little piece of a broader look at reboulevarding the city that is needed. The municipal level issues get trickier for a host of reasons.

So a lot more to do but it is not a new converstaion even. Even 15 years ago. Most of those projects were being worked on well before that and folks working to not abandon places like the Mexican War streets had been working hard long before that. or station square? people forget it was quite a novel idea at the time.

Sunday, February 28, 2010 9:59:00 AM  
Anonymous johnnyg said...

Some conversation. Sure. But not in a systematic way--which is, I know, par for the course around here. While I will concede some conversation about things, most was along the lines of, "That Frank Cass from Columbus is a real dunce. A project like the Waterfront will never fly in Pittsburgh. He's an outsider. He doesn't understand the 'real' Pittsburgh." This was from real estate developers who knew Pittsburgh "best". Frank Cass is the guy laughing all the way to the bank today.

But the neighborhood issue is more "out of sight, out of mind". You've said that yourself in the run-up to the G-20--especially how it was a good thing that our "blighted" neighborhoods are off the beaten path. East Liberty is a commercial success story--likely driven by developers finally noticing that three of the city's wealthier neighborhoods are within easy walking/driving distance (Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, Highland Park--not to mention Fox Chapel). But a lot of the housing around there (especially the 10 square block area north of Penn Circle North) falls into the category of what you're concerned about.

Detroit is having a real conversation--much like the one in Youngstown--about simply abandoning parts of the city and re-developing parks, forests, urban farms, or anything but blight. That's the conversation we're not having. Pittsburghers, for better and for worse, cling to the idea that just because it is old, it must be valuable. Fancy that, maybe Detroit can teach us at the same time they learn from us.

And, I mean attention at some level that counts: the SWPCC, the Conference, heck, the county executive. I know the belief is that the migration is always outward, away from the city. But I think that places like Crawford Square and Somerset tell us something different. People will choose the city, or perhaps other blighted neighborhoods, if they offer what they are looking for. Well, that and getting the urban schools back to world-class. Which is a whole 'nother conversation.

Sunday, February 28, 2010 10:32:00 AM  
Anonymous MH said...

The Waterfront was done by a guy from Columbus? That explains so much. I had always wondered why half of the restuarants were Columbus chains.

Sunday, February 28, 2010 11:06:00 AM  
Anonymous MJ said...

Somerset is hardly your typical blighted area. It seems overpriced and inconviently located to me, but it is right in Squirrel Hill. Nobody was worried about crime, and the kids are bound for Alderdice (or private schools).

Sunday, February 28, 2010 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

There is a lot of truth to that. Not only would Somerset not have been considered blighted real estate, it took a leap of the imagination to consider the slag heap real estate at all.

Sunday, February 28, 2010 11:29:00 AM  
Anonymous johnnyg said...

A slag heap is not a "blighted" area??? You make my point for me.

Sunday, February 28, 2010 11:43:00 AM  
Anonymous johnnyg said...

And, just as it takes just as big a leap of imagination to re-imagine places like the Hill. We limit ourselves when we limit our imagination.

Sunday, February 28, 2010 12:02:00 PM  
Anonymous MH said...

I typo'ed my name. 'MJ' was me.

But, no, Somerset was not blighted in the same sense as other blighted areas. To make Somerset happen, you might need a leap of the imagination, but it doesn't hurt to have nearby streets full of houses that cost from $200k to $500k. Once that happens, somebody will start to look at ways around the "they aren't making any more land" platitude. In some areas, the city will push down your neighbor's house to sell you a side yard. In Squirrel Hill, if your side yard is flat, it was sub-divided and built on.

Also, when it comes to re-imagining the Hill District, you will sooner or later come to the point where you get conflicting ideas of the future. Many of the people would very likely be re-imagining the Hill in such a way that its current residents live somewhere else.

Sunday, February 28, 2010 3:27:00 PM  

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