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Papenfuse ready to tackle blighted properties

Updated: Monday, February 24 2014, 09:37 PM CST
Reported by: Jesse Knutson

HARRISBURG -- Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse held a press conference today to talk about his administration’s fight against blight following Friday’s church collapse that force two families out of their homes.

As part of his press conference, the mayor announced a list of 11 people who are behind a large amount of blight in the city, and he announced that prior to Friday’s church collapse, the list was made and police were looking for these people.

“You’re going to see police making every effort to go out and round up these individuals that are repeat offenders and have not yet been brought to justice.” Papenfuse said.

The first arrest in this new effort happened at the church collapse on Friday night when Harrisburg Police arrested the building’s owner, Augustus Sullivan, who was one of the 11 placed on the list.

“The bottom line is, the property owner knew that this building was a hazard,” Papenfuse said.

On Monday, CBS 21’s Jesse Knutson spoke to the people who live next to the church and were evacuated Friday night following the roof collapse.

“I’m ready for demolition,” Hector Arbarado said, who lives in the home along with seven other people, including four children.

When the church partially collapsed on Friday, pieces of brick and debris fell down onto and around Arbarado’s home, damaging his pool and knocking out his cable service, but it could have been much worse.

The Red Cross and the City of Harrisburg are now assisting Arbarado until their home is deemed safe. Neighbors in the area say that they’re glad Harrisburg is doing something about the church, but they need to realize that the problem is much bigger than a single building.

“There’s too many abandoned houses around, they should destroy all of them,” John Courtney, who lives down the street from the church, said, adding that he lives right next to a home that’s been abandoned since 2003. “It’s terrible. It’s falling down. Everyday there’s a piece of it falling down.”

Mayor Papenfuse said he’s aware of the blight problem and he’s working to demolish the more than 270 properties in Harrisburg that are on a demolish list, but all of this demolishing takes time.  In the previous two years, only 30 buildings have been demolished each year due to budget and time constraints.

Papenfuse is hoping property owners will step up and take responsibility for their own buildings.

“We have to get these property owners to cooperate and to make corrective action and to not think that you can just own this and not have a responsibility to the families that are living nearby and that are in immediate danger,” Papenfuse said.

Papenfuse said the city is currently in the planning stages to demolish the church. The project is expected to cost more than $200,000 and take a few weeks.
Papenfuse ready to tackle blighted properties

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