By Justin Sondel email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — The city is set to continue its effort to eliminate blight in Niagara Falls.
The Niagara Falls City Council approved a contract that will see Regional Environmental Demolitions, Inc. take down 20 vacant and dilapidated houses, mostly in the Center City and Memorial Parkway neighborhoods at its Wednesday meeting.
Seth Piccirillo, the director of the city’s Community Development department, said the demolitions are part of a larger revitalization strategy that includes the renovation of houses and the beautification of vacant lots.
“We know that there is blight that needs to be eliminated quickly,” he said. “But housing renovations are actually more important.”
Councilman Andrew Touma, who voted in favor of the contract along with all his colleagues, asked for an explanation on how the houses were selected.
Piccirillo said his department identified three strategic sectors to target with demolition funds from the 2013 budget including downtown, Memorial Parkway and Center City.
The funding for the approved contract, which will pay Regional Environmental Demolition $456,822 for the work, will come from U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development money and casino revenues, the last of the money allocated for demolitions in the 2013 budget.
Piccirillo said demolitions have taken place in all three of those neighborhoods in the first two contracts awarded from the 2013 budget, but went back through to identify the remaining houses in those neighborhoods that were the best candidates for demolition.
“You’ll start to see some (demolitions) from all those areas,” he said. “We’re going through again.”
The city inspections department keeps a list of properties that are candidates for demolition and then works with the Community Development department to put together packages of about 20 houses for contractors to bid on.
Anytime HUD money is used it must go to low- to moderate-income neighborhoods as where casino revenues can be spent to demolish houses anywhere in the city, Piccirillo said.
“You might see some in LaSalle with the next round with casino (revenues), but there’s less LaSalle demolitions,” Piccirillo said.
Dennis Virtuoso, the director of the city’s Inspections department, said his crew is constantly monitoring the state of vacant houses around the city.
“We usually try to do fire damaged properties first,” he said. “The most dangerous properties are those that are structurally unsound.”
Virtuoso said his department often has issues taking down properties that are privately owned because the owner has the right to attempt to fix the house and many cases end up in housing court where they can linger for years.
“The city-owned (houses) are easier to take down than privately owned,” Virtuoso said.
In addition, it is sometimes unclear who is responsible for upkeep on a house that has entered the foreclosure process, but hasn’t officially been taken by the lender.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced last week that he plans to introduce legislation that will hold lenders responsible for taking care of the so-called “zombie properties” earlier in the foreclosure process.
Virtuoso said he has no control over the court system, but he feels something should be done to fight the blight created by the court delays.
“That process has to be sped up somehow,” he said.MAKING THE LIST City homes slated for demotion this year include: • 927 Center Ave. • 602 Niagara St. • 1500 Ontario Ave. • 515 Walnut Ave. • 528 10th St. • 2809 10th St. • 1310 18th St. • 1419 18th St. • 3227 Ely Ave. • 2928 Highland Ave. • 1311 Michigan Ave. • 1337 Ontario Ave. • 1121 Pierce Ave. • 1639 Weston Ave. • 1136 Willow Ave. • 414 Seventh St. • 414 1/2 Seventh St. • 432 Eighth St. • 412 10th St. • 144 56th St. Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257