March 30, 2011

Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb said Tuesday that the city must do a better job of maintaining vacant properties it owns as well as selling more properties so they return to the tax rolls.

“We must make every effort, including working with the citizens in the community in which these properties are located, to get these properties back on the city tax rolls,” Lamb said in a prepared statement. “We also must create a system so that these properties are given regular maintenance. They are contributing to neighborhood blight and in some cases are safety hazards.”

Lamb’s office conducts performance and financial audits of city departments and authorities and inspects all goods and services received by the city. His office audited the city Department of Finance’s real estate division and looked at how the city acquired and disposed of properties from 2008 to last June.

Lamb’s office identified 3,108 tax-delinquent properties available for sale. Of those, 769 properties have been acquired by the city and 1,174 have been given away or sold, reducing the city’s inventory of delinquent properties by 11 percent, according to the audit.

In all, according to the audit, 20,732 properties within the city were listed as delinquent.

Many properties, according to the audit, are in Perry South, California-Kirkbride, Garfield, Homewood North, Homewood South, Beltzhoover, Hazelwood, Middle Hill and Larimer.

Lamb recommended that city-held properties be inspected and scheduled for regular maintenance so that they don’t contribute to neighborhood blight.

Delinquent properties are sporadically maintained by the city Department of Public Works’ “Redd Up” crew and private contractor City Source Associates or after someone lodges a complaint, according to the audit.

Lamb’s report praised the city’s Side Yard program, in which homeowners can buy adjoining lots that can’t be developed because of their size or grade for $400. Since the program’s inception in 1994, the audit said, 715 of 1,200 lots were sold and put back on the tax rolls.

“Early on, we’ve identified all of the same concerns, and we’ve been aggressively dealing with the problems over the last few years,” said Marissa Doyle, communications specialist for the Ravenstahl administration.