Altoona's Blighted Property Program has demolished 244 buildings since 1995 - an average of 14 per year.
The pace accelerated in 2008, when the city made a couple of moves toward simplicity. Since then, the program has averaged 26 demolitions annually.
Before 2008, the city acquired properties before demolishing the buildings on them. It also hired contractors to do the demolitions.
Since then, an in-house crew has performed most of the city's blighted property demolitions under emergency demolition clauses in the Property Maintenance Code, based on abatement-of-nuisance powers in the Third Class City Code.
Acquisition of properties through the Redevelopment Authority was time consuming and complicated. It would take six months to a year, said Blighted Property Program coordinator Mary Johnson.
Under the regimen adopted in 2008, the Blighted Property Review Committee and the Planning Commission still need to certify a property is blighted. But then the codes office merely needs to certify the nuisance with a letter establishing that the property owner failed to comply with an order to demolish or repair.
Using an in-house demolition crew is more efficient than contracting, because jobs it performs don't require advertisements and bids.
There is also a post-demolition advantage. Under the new regimen, the city no longer owns the ground after demolitions, so that it doesn't need to cut the grass.
Not owning the ground has a corresponding disadvantage, however, because the owners who failed to keep up the properties when there were buildings on them almost always fail to keep up those properties when the buildings are gone.
In about a quarter of cases, the city razes buildings with the owner's consent, according to city solicitor Larry Clapper.
Many blighted properties find new owners through tax sales, and often those new owners either flip them for a quick profit or let them sit and fester.
If a blighted property, however, goes through both the "upset" and judicial tax sales, they land in the county repository. At that point, those properties are the county's responsibility to demolish, if it can't sell them off after obtaining consent from the other taxing bodies, according to Clapper.
The city liens blighted properties for the cost of demolition. Occasionally, it gets paid, preventing an undeserving owner from a "windfall" benefit, Clapper said.
The average cost of a house demolition is about $7,000, according to Johnson. The city generally allots around $400,000 a year for the Blighted Property Program.
Currently, there is one building scheduled for demolition and four ready to go, Johnson said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.