Erie News Now Investigates Erie's Eyesores
For RL Daniels, the dilapidated property across from his E. 13th Street home has become a flophouse for squatters.
"It's terrible," said Daniels. "It's like every morning I wake up, it's the first thing I see."
Daniels recently had to revive a man suffering from a drug overdose with Narcan.
"They rip the boards up and they go do drugs," said Daniels. "It's just people back and forth at that house. I mean, it's bad that the house is looking like that, but it's also worse that they are going in there and doing drugs."
For Sharon Swartwood, it's a similar situation, different neighborhood.
"It's sick because people think our house is abandoned," said Swartwood. "It's not."
The abandoned property next to her E. 24th Street house has fallen into disrepair.
The property has become a dumping ground for garbage, attracting rodents and other stray animals.
"We got mice, rats, groundhogs, gophers, all types of stuff," said Swartwood. "They just drop trash in the yard and they really don't care because they think that our houses are blighted."
These are just two examples of the 252 blighted properties found throughout the city.
160 of those properties are considered vacant and abandoned.
It's a growing issue, the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Erie (RACE) is dedicated to addressing.
"It's a big issue," said RACE Executive Director Aaron Snippert. "The people around those properties have every right to live in a neighborhood that is free from blight."
According to Snippert, his office works with Erie City Code Enforcement to identify blighted properties.
Once a blight declaration is made, the city sends a notice to the property owner.
"We send them a pre-condemnation notice," said Snippert. "We want to work with the property owners. We don't want to acquire their property, but we want to gain compliance with the property maintenance issues that these properties have."
If conditions are not corrected or if the property is considered "unsound" or a threat to public safety, RACE can condemn the property and acquire it through eminent domain.
Blighted and unsound properties can have a significant financial impact on the neighborhoods where they are located in.
According to the City of Erie's Planning and Neighborhood Resource Department, each unsound home can lower the property value of surrounding homes by up to 41 percent.
The city is now using $1.8 million in American Rescue Plan funding to mitigate 100 blighted homes.
According to Snippert, since 2020, the city has torn down 84 homes.
Who owns these blighted homes?
My search for answers brought me to Erie City Hall, where I was given a list of every blighted property in the city of Erie.
"A majority of the blighted properties we take are owned by people who live out of town," said Snippert. "They live out of state, they live across the country in most cases, so it's a problem of tracking them down."
However, based on the city's own list, a lot of the properties are owned by local landlords and developers.
Donald Crenshaw of GMA Development Group LLC owns or maintains more than 150 housing units throughout the city of Erie.
"Every unit we have, our goal is to renovate and make home ownership." said Crenshaw.
However, four of those properties are on the city's blight list.
"I do have properties that have yet to be addressed," said Crenshaw. "Once I get to those properties, they too will be an improvement to the community. I apologize to the city that I am overwhelmed with getting some of these done."
Erie News Now asked Crenshaw if there is anything stopping him from fixing up those properties.
"The challenge that we have is access to capital and access to manpower." said Crenshaw.
While Crenshaw's company recently completed renovations on four properties on Buffalo Road, the blighted properties still need to be addressed.
"I think as you look around the city, it's not just about the fact that a property today needs renovation. It's about keeping them safe and secure, which we do with all of our properties, and at times, you have to look at what is a realistic timeframe."
Meanwhile, four properties on the city's blight list are listed under Pero Real Estate LLC.
However, those properties were sold on a land contract sale, so the people on the contract are responsible for the property taxes and upkeep.
"People drive by certain properties and see them just run down," said Apartment Association of NW PA President Brandon Penn. "There is a lot that goes into bringing them back up."
Penn is responsible for two of those properties. Penn's invested nearly $50,000 in renovations on both of those properties.
"I know blight has been a big problem with the city for a long time," said Penn. "I, and quite a few other investors are trying to fix them back up rather than just tear them down."
Jeramie Harris of J.Harris Construction is responsible for one of the other properties, on East 6th and Ash Streets.
"He's sunk quite a bit of money into them himself," said Penn. "I know he put in new siding and a new roof, a total revamp on the inside. Quite a bit of money going back into these."
According to Penn, all three properties are close to being removed from the city's blight list.
"It's just a process," said Penn. "You've got to go through all the hoops that the city wants you to go through and then have them come out, do their inspections, and then they'll take it off the list after they ok everything."
The fourth property on East 12th Street is slated for demolition.
Meanwhile, Crenshaw says he plans to renovate the blighted properties that he is connected to.
"Those properties will all be renovated," said Crenshaw. "All the properties that I have, if they are not renovated and occupied today, the goal for every one of those properties is to renovate them."