Manchester Citizens Corporation is attempting to do what they haven’t done in nearly 30 years — sell a large number of houses at steep discounts in a onetime sale.
MCC staff hope to sell as many as 40 homes during what they’re billing as “Pittsburgh’s $20 Million Great House Sale & Tour,” which will last for two days on Oct. 17 and 18.
The plan’s details were unveiled to Manchester residents at a community meeting on Monday night.
The idea for the house sale arose after MCC received a letter from Yarone Zober, the Mayor’s chief-of-staff, stating that 84 houses in Manchester were on the city’s demolition list. MCC staff said the continued demolition of historic houses in their neighborhood might eventually cause Manchester to lose its historic designation, which it received in 1979. MCC held a large-scale house sale the following year in order to spurr development.
The letter spurred MCC to action, said committee member Linda Hansen, because the city officials said they were waiting for MCC’s response.
“[The city] said Manchester needed a broad development plan, not something piecemeal. So we got together and moved on this,” Hansen said.
The housing sale is only the first part of MCC’s extensive development plan. Further initiatives are the rehabilitation of 39 vacant structures beginning next spring and a plan to utilize the new Pennsylvania Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act, which allows interested developers to force owners of long-blighted properties to sell their undeveloped property.
MCC’s executive director Stanley Lowe said suing many owners of blighted property at once has never been done before to his knowledge, since the law is only a year old.
“If you do it in a collective way,” Lowe said on Monday, “they got to either fix [their properties] up or sell.”
31 of the 40 for-sale units are yet to be built in what will become the Columbus Square development on the old American Electric site in upper Manchester. MCC expects to break ground on the first five houses later this month, and units begin at $179,000.
Another seven units, which attendees can tour, are houses that MCC will renovate and sell at a discount once they have a secure buyer. They range from $90,000 for a rehabilitated, three-bedroom duplex on Columbus Avenue to $200,000 for a 4,000 square foot Victorian home with adjoining rental unit on Liverpool Street.
Additionally, two houses in need of thorough rehabilitation will be raffled for $1 apiece. Winners will have to show evidence of an ability to finance the renovations.
MCC has worked with sponsors, including First Niagara, PNC and Richard Mellon Scaife, to offer low-interest loans between 3 and 5.5 percent and deferred second mortgages on certain properties. All purchased houses will receive 10-year tax abatements under the city’s program for underdeveloped neighborhoods.
The low-interest loans were important to MCC staff, who said Manchester has the third highest percentage of high-cost loans on the Northside, behind only Brightwood and Perry Hilltop.
Those in attendance can hold a property with a $1500 deposit.
Because of the enormity of this venture, MCC purchased commercial spots on a dozen cable channels, including E!, A&E, The History Channel and BET. The commercials will reach half-a-million viewers in seven cable markets, Hansen said, and will play from October 1 through 15.
Additionally, members have sent out 22,000 save-the-date mailers.
Tickets for the sale and tour are $20 in advance and $25 the day of the tour, which includes a continental breakfast. Further information is listed on MCC’s website or call (412) 323-1743.
Currently, close to 20 percent of Manchester is vacant, even after the city demolished 54 houses over the last five years.
A recent survey conducted by MCC and the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation turned up 172 vacant or abandoned structures. Staff divided this group into separate categories with recommendations for the city: 64 are designated a priority; 56 should be kept but are not a priority; and 49 are recommended for demolition. Three other structures are still under review.
The survey gave priority to houses that scored highly on six criteria: architectural integrity, key location, cultural significance, impact on adjacent properties, marketability and lower renovation cost.
An air of urgency was ever present at Monday’s meeting, and community members voiced their agreement to save the vacant buildings.
“Andrew Carnegie learned to read and write here. Tuskegee Airmen lived on Franklin Street,” Lowe said to the packed room of Manchester residents.
Twelve structures on Franklin Street have been demolished since 2004, according to city records.