Bor­ough eyes new weapon to fight blight

Philly non­profit also pro­vides job train­ing

The Community Connection - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @PottstownNews on Twit­ter

POTTSTOWN » For years, one of Pottstown’s most per­sis­tent prob­lems has been blight — run-down, of­ten aban­doned build­ings that de­te­ri­o­rate and ruin the look of a street or neigh­bor­hood, lower prop­erty val­ues and act as a mag­net for crime.

The bor­ough has ad­dressed it from sev­eral an­gles, in­clud­ing the blighted prop­erty re­view com­mit­tee and, more re­cently, the cre­ation of a Pottstown Land Bank.

But an­other weapon may soon be added to the ar­se­nal thanks to an in­no­va­tive idea be­ing used in Philadelphia and brought to Pottstown by Mayor Stephanie Hen­rick.

Ear­lier this month, coun­cil heard from Greg Trainor, who heads Philadelphia Com­mu­nity Corps, a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion

with sev­eral mis­sions, in­clud­ing bat­tling blight, job train­ing in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try and re­cy­cling and re-use of build­ing ma­te­ri­als.

He de­scribed the blight’s de­struc­tion of prop­erty and prop­erty val­ues as a kind of slow-mo­tion catas­tro­phe. “If this hap­pened all at once, it would be con­sid­ered a dis­as­ter and there would be all kinds of fund­ing from the state and fed­eral gov­ern­ment,” Trainor said. “But it doesn’t. Blight hap­pens slowly, over years.”

With more than 40,000 va­cant prop­er­ties, Philadelphia suf­fers from blight on ste­ri­ods and it is nearly al­ways the lower-in­come neigh­bor­hoods, which can least with­stand the eco­nom­i­cally and so­cial desta­bi­liz­ing ef­fects of blight, which end up shoul­der­ing the bur­den, he said.

All too of­ten, said Trainor, build­ings which are aban­doned are older, harder to up­date and of lower value, mak­ing the fi­nan­cial in­cen­tive to ren­o­vate them or re-de­velop in an area with low prop­erty val­ues, a non-starter for in­vestors.

But the in­volve­ment of Philadelphia Com­mu­nity Corps, be­cause it is a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion pro­vid­ing job train­ing, turns that li­a­bil­ity into an as­set in the form of a pretty siz­able tax break, Trainor ex­plained.

In­stead of pay­ing a com­pany to knock a build­ing down, the owner can have it “de-con­structed” and “ev­ery­thing in a de-con­structed house be­comes tax de­ductible be­cause our or­ga­ni­za­tion is a 501 (c) 3 and is pro­vid­ing job train­ing,” said Trainor. “Even old plas­ter is a tax de­duc­tion be­cause it trains peo­ple on how to take it down. They used to pay to throw this away, now they get a tax ben­e­fit.”

At the same time, it is also a job train­ing pro­gram. Trainor said most who par­tic­i­pate are those who did not grad­u­ate high school, or who may have crim­i­nal records and have trou­ble find­ing work. Be­cause his group works on sites with li­censed con­struc­tion com­pa­nies, they get to see the trainees work for weeks and of­ten hire them, he said.

Ac­cord­ing to the Philadelphia Com­mu­nity Corps web­site, “trainees gain the skills and ex­pe­ri­ences nec­es­sary to suc­ceed in the de­con­struc­tion, ma­te­rial sal­vage, and other build­ing trade in­dus­tries. Ad­di­tion­ally, they re­ceive OSHA (Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety and Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion) cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and an in­tro­duc­tory course based on cur­ricu­lum from the Build­ing Ma­te­ri­als Re­use As­so­ci­a­tion. Ul­ti­mately, we aim to con­nect trainees to em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

As for the ma­te­ri­als re­moved from the sites, many of them can find new life.

“We look at aban­doned build­ings as a moun­tain of bricks and for­est of lum­ber that can be re-used rather than spend­ing money to main­tain them va­cant as they are,” Trainor said.

Con­struc­tion and de­mo­li­tion de­bris com­prises 40 per­cent of the ma­te­ri­als that get dumped into land­fills, said Trainor, “and 90 per­cent of it is ei­ther re­cy­clable or can be re-used.”

“We are able to di­vert ma­te­ri­als from land­fills to pro­mote prac­ti­cal and cre­ative re­use by uti­liz­ing de­con­struc­tion, which is an en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly al­ter­na­tive to de­mo­li­tion. The process also cre­ates more jobs and less pol­lu­tion be­cause build­ings are taken apart by hand,” ac­cord­ing to the web site.

Many older build­ings con­tain trea­sures like lum­ber from old-growth forests which is no longer avail­able and which wood-work­ers prize as an ex­clu­sive prod­uct, a fact re­in­forced by the gleam in the eye of Coun­cil­man Ryan Proc­sal, also a premier wood-worker, as Trainor de­scribed the ma­te­ri­als re­cov­ered.

Met­als can be re­cy­cled and many older homes, aban­doned or not, con­tain hard-to-find ar­chi­tec­tural el­e­ments now only avail­able in high-end sal­vage stores — which is an­other part of the Philadelphia Com­mu­nity Corps model.

They op­er­ate the Philly Re­claim Ma­te­ri­als Re­use Cen­ter at 150 W. But­ler St., which has be­come so pop­u­lar, Trainor said it’s hard to keep things on the shelf.

Trainor said they are look­ing for a new, larger ware­house and Bor­ough Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Dan We­and sug­gested that Pottstown has a bumper crop of such spaces.

“Could we con­vince you to open up such a cen­ter in Pottstown?” We­and asked.

Trainor said he would con­sider it and was put into tough with Peggy LeeClark, who not only heads PAID, the bor­ough’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment arm, but also sits on the newly created Pottstown Land Bank board, which would ben­e­fit from a con­nec­tion to an or­ga­ni­za­tion that turns a blighted prop­erty from a fi­nan­cial li­a­bil­ity to a tax ben­e­fit.

EVAN BRANDT — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Tak­ing a build­ing apart by hand not only al­lows for the re-use of ma­te­ri­als, it also pro­vides job train­ing in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try, said Greg Trainor, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Philadelphia Com­mu­nity Corps.

EVAN BRANDT — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

As many Pottstown home­own­ers know, it can be very dif­fi­cult to re­place pe­riod doors at reg­u­lar home im­prove­ment stores.

EVAN BRANDT — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Many a Pottstown his­toric home owner has searched in vain for a doornob, hinge or win­dow hard­ware that matches the oth­ers in their house.

EVAN BRANDT — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Greg Trainor, left, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Philadelphia Com­mu­nity Corps told Pottstown Bor­ough Coun­cil both the trainees in this photo got jobs as a re­sult of the train­ing they re­ceived.

EVAN BRANDT — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Items like vin­tage tubs and sinks are of­ten sought by those who want to ren­o­vate their pe­riod home with pe­riod prod­ucts.

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