More than 80 properties and homes are listed as blighted in the city of Erie. One-by-one, abandoned and blighted homes with boarded up doors, broken windows, and weeds growing wild, are plaguing the city's neighborhoods.
 
"Vacationers come here, they don't want to see that, we don't want that to represent our city," said Mary Schabolla, who lives across from a blighted property on West 10th Street.
 
Many of the city's blighted properties are unrecognizable. Darin King lives next door to a home-turned-jungle on West 21st Street. "It smells like cat urine," King explained of the stench. "All night long you hear animals and people breaking in. lt's causing all kinds of problems; the value of our homes is going down."

West 17th Street is scattered with at least three blighted homes. Neighbors say the properties have been empty for years, attracting crime to the neighborhood. "There's rats, there's homeless people that go in them," said Bridget Young, who lives down the street. "There's animals, cats galore, cats everywhere."

Blight is a battle Joe Cilladi has been fighting for years. Cilladi works as a code enforcement officer and demolition coordinator for the city. He describes blight as a "never-ending battle," and says tracking down neglectful owners is often impossible. "It's very difficult because the property gets to that point because the homeowners don't have funds," he explained. "So how do you hold them accountable for something they don't have?"

Finding the funds to demolish properties and clear out blight is even more difficult. During the last fiscal year, Cilladi says his office was allocated $65,000 for demolitions, which only allowed for seven properties to be torn down. But as soon as one is demolished, Cilladi says more fall into disrepair.

"Why it takes so long is because you're still dealing with someone else's property and you just can't go in and take their property and do something without going through the process and giving them every opportunity to make it right," he said of why some properties sit vacant for years.

When property owners can't make it right and a home is declared blighted, the Erie Redevelopment Authority steps in. The ERA takes hopeless properties and vacant lots, and puts them up for sale to be redeveloped. Right now, there's more than a hundred lien-free lots up for grabs. Some go for as little as $1,000. "We really look for who's going to be a responsible owner, who is going to maintain the property and pay the taxes on them," said Scott Henry, executive director of the ERA.

With limited funding, the city and county are looking at other options to fight blight. Henry said he's hopeful the state budget will include expanding funding for programs that mitigate blight. He said there has also been a lot of interest in establishing a land-bank, which would provide some additional revenue from property sales.

To report blighted homes, contact the code enforcement office at 814-870-1473. For a list of properties the ERA is selling and the requirements to purchase them, visit http://www.redeveloperie.org/properties_for_sale/vacant_lots_and_fixer_uppers/