City takes important first step

The unflattering housing-condition information compiled by a survey launched by Altoona’s city planning office last summer doesn’t mean the Mountain City is a bad place to live.

To the contrary, the survey’s optimistic side is that this community is being proactive in trying to determine what needs to be done to move it forward, rather than do nothing and have its problems multiply.

Altoona is like cities across Pennsylvania that were built upon an industrial base. All still have housing issues that need to be addressed, based in large part on the age of their respective housing stocks.

An article dealing with the local study, which was published on the front page of last Sunday’s Mirror, revealed that, of the 9,300 parcels in the city’s low- to moderate-income neighborhoods, 4,881 need repairs, 372 need to be rehabilitated and 20 need to be razed.

The narrative in the survey report contains this very troubling quote: “This map raises grave issues.”

But although much needs to be done here in terms of housing improvements — that point now cannot be disputed — what shouldn’t be forgotten are the tremendous strides made on the city’s redevelopment and housing fronts since the 1960s and 1970s, initially with efforts such as the downtown and school urban renewal projects.

But the city must continue to build upon those early large-scale actions and smaller efforts carried out since then.

The city hasn’t been standing still over the years in terms of dealing with substandard or dilapidated homes and other structures, and this decade, those efforts have been ramped up significantly.

But the responsibility for progress and keeping the community looking upbeat and inviting doesn’t rest solely with city government or money from the state and federal governments. Property owners must be willing to devote some of their own resources as well toward keeping their homes and properties in good condition.

For low- and moderate-income homeowners, that oftentimes is difficult. There are the financial challenges inherent in raising a family and in otherwise meeting basic needs.

Meanwhile, for the elderly in frail health or living on fixed incomes, keeping up with needed repairs is difficult, sometimes virtually impossible, although some have younger family members who could and should be trying to help out where possible.

Then there are certain absentee landlords who fail to keep up with housing maintenance — and some of their tenants who lack pride in where they live and “help” their surroundings deteriorate.

All cities and many smaller communities experience those scenarios, and all municipalities should seek means to apply pressure for those problems to be rectified.

“Doing nothing” isn’t an option for the anti-blight initiative that began with a blight task force convened by Mayor Matt Pacifico, having since given way to an implementation committee that’s currently getting its feet planted regarding its mission.

Neither Altoona nor anywhere else can escape the reality that there always will be housing that needs repairs or rehabilitation. However, the needed work need not be of the scope that the planning office report identifies.

The report in question isn’t flattering for the city, but it’s a meaningful first step toward improvement.

“Grave issues” aren’t insurmountable.