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"We're going to have an aggressive standard for maintaining these properties because of their negative impact on neighborhoods," he says. "Private investors that are buying houses just to sit on them will have to pay a premium for blighting the city."
With a mere 14 code inspectors left in the city, Reed says he plans to place code-enforcement under the police department and train rookie cops to write code citations. The mayor says he's also urging local banks to rent foreclosed properties to help their own bottom lines.
"Vacant houses can't sit for any length of time without getting stripped," Reed says. "If you don't want to get into the rental business, then you're going to be in the home rehab business."
Dirty Truth board Chairman Robert Welsh believes that, with the cooperation of the city, the NSP grantees and groups like his, the neighborhoods can see solid improvement in five years.
"I think a tipping point is what you need," he says. "As long as you can get more houses occupied by residents who want to be there, the neighborhoods will start to change. They'll transform."
In Pittsburgh, residents hold cleanups every three months to collect dumped tires and trash bags. Gallashaw says most neighbors try to keep an eye on the vacant home next door. A community garden started in a vacant lot owned by the PCIA – the lettuce, tomatoes and watermelon are given to elderly residents – might soon be joined by a second nearby. In neighboring Mechanicsville, where longtime residents have been joined by urban-pioneering newcomers, a new crop of leaders have rekindled the neighborhood association's initiatives and coordinated weekly dog walks and community cleanups.
Gallashaw, whose daughter graduated from high school with a $200,000 college scholarship and now studies creative writing and theater, still lives in Pittsburgh with her other children.
"People told me, 'You gotta move,'" Gallashaw says. "But we're not gonna run. We're gonna help this community and ourselves. All of us have a story, one way or another. And we're here for each other. I've never seen a community like this in my 42 years of life."
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