Bracey
Bracey

Fight blight and provide decent, affordable and safe housing.

The mayors of York City, Lancaster City, Harrisburg and Lebanon all said they're working on those issues to improve the quality of life for their citizens.

"I declare war on blight," said Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse. "We're doing warrant sweeps (for property owners), raising the ante on charges, and we're developing housing plans for city neighborhoods."

The mayors discussed property issues during the South Central Assembly Housing Summit held Tuesday at the Holiday Inn in West Manchester Township.

The day-long summit included sessions led by housing experts who discussed various issues, including blight and property maintenance, housing needs for youth, veterans and ex-offenders, funding sources for housing development, reinvestment in distressed neighborhoods and the involvement of the faith community in housing production programs.

Assembly: The summit was presented by South Central Assembly, a nonprofit based in Middletown, Dauphin County. The assembly provides public and private sector organizations opportunities to work together to identify and recommend solutions for quality-of-life issues within the region.

The assembly includes county and local officials from York, Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Franklin and Perry counties.


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More than 220 people attended the summit, said Craig Zumbrun, president of South Central Assembly's board and executive director of York City's housing authority.

The assembly will use information gathered at the summit to help its members share strategies and ideas for addressing housing issues and to inform state and federal lawmakers on pressing matters that need to be addressed either by legislation or additional funding, said Zumbrun, also a city resident.

Mayors: The summit closed with an hour-long "The Mayors on Housing" session featuring Papenfuse and Mayors Kim Bracey of York City, Rick Gray of Lancaster and Sherry Capello of Lebanon.

They discussed challenges and strategies for addressing blight and how their area's housing markets are affected by economic, community and business development, residents' income levels and family demographics.

"We have older housing stock that was (initially) developed for the working class," Bracey said. "Now with these houses, we have much blight and code issues and we're working with historical preservation. We're trying to provide decent, affordable, safe housing. People need market-rate housing, apartment-style living, especially in the downtown area."

Gray said Lancaster is seeing a growth in the amount of young singles and young families wanting to live in the downtown area, where they are within walking distances of their jobs, shops and restaurants. Lancaster City is focusing on code and rental licensing enforcement to crack down on slumlords.

Lebanon needs affordable housing for senior citizens and for people with disabilities, Capello said. Slumlords and blight also are issues the city struggles with, as the fire department is working with limited staff and reduced funding.

In Harrisburg, there are 346 condemned properties, with a third of them on the city's demolition list, Papenfuse said.

However, the city has made some moves in its fight against blight by publicizing a list of the area's top problem property owners, including those who had yet to pay fines for code violations, he said.

The city also set up a housing court that has a district judge who makes decisions and assigns fines on property issues, Papenfuse said.

— Reach Eyana Adah McMillan at emcmillan@yorkdispatch.com.