Vacant Home Tour Aims To Change Fate Of Wilkinsburg's Blighted Properties

Apr 25, 2016

The property at 744 South Avenue is one of the houses featured in this year's tour.
Credit Greg Sciulli

While many vacant homes continue to crumble in Wilkinsburg, a select few will have their stories told.

The Wilkinsburg Vacant Home Tour began as a project by Carnegie Mellon University to address the issue of urban decay in the borough. The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation adopted the tour during its second year.

“We get a lot of complaints from residents … they want to know how they could go about acquiring the vacant home next door, or if it can be demolished, or what is available for people to deal with vacancy and blight in their neighborhood,” said Marlee Gallagher, co-coordinator of the tour.

This year’s tour includes six vacant or abandoned properties. Eight additional points of interest include the Wilkinsburg Train Station, the Borough Building and several historic churches.

Wilkinsburg has the highest number of vacant homes in Allegheny County with around 800 empty, according to Gallagher.

“Most people see vacant houses in Wilkinsburg as a problem and not much more than that, and so the tour really wants to showcase the properties as opportunities rather than problems,” she said.

Volunteer neighborhood residents will act as tour guides and explain the history of the buildings, as well as offer possibilities for their futures, according to Gallagher. Officials with the corporation asked tour guides to research history on their assigned homes and talk to neighbors about who used to live there in order to put together a narrative about each house’s history.

“By telling the story of the home and the people that used to live in these homes, adding a little bit of emotion and personality to these vacant properties is one thing that the tour aims to do, and then also connect people to resources, to actually do something about the vacant properties,” she said.

This year’s tour features a larger vendor area, which will include organizations specializing in home repairs or housing assistance.

Tour-goers can also participate in two workshops: one on vacant property acquisition and another on rehabilitating vacant homes. Participants are asked to RSVP separately.

“We're hoping it grows a little bit, more people come and discover Wilkinsburg and that residents come on the tour as well and learn about these different tools that are available,” Gallagher said.

The free self-guided tour will begin at the South Avenue United Methodist Church and runs from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on May 7.