Fighting blight by highlighting vacant homes’ histories

From IEDC an idea Ashtabula County could use.

If these walls could talk…

Now, in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, they can. In order to encourage renovation, the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation is giving tours of vacant homes with a focus on each property’s history (Governing). The idea for the Wilkinsburg Vacant Home Tour came from a group of Carnegie Mellon students. According to Governing:

Their idea: to hold a tour targeting a select number of houses that could most easily be turned over and renovated to new owners, with each stop managed by a volunteer “docent” who helps research the home’s history and provides historical visuals. At the end, prospective buyers attend workshops run by experts at the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation to learn about how to access incentive programs. If it works, groups like the WCDC can keep the program going at a minimal cost.

Community volunteers act as tour guides and tell visitors when the house was built, who lived in it, etc. They research the homes with help from historical societies, deed offices, and from crowdsourced testimonials from older residents.

Though adjacent Pittsburgh has successfully bounced back from the decline of the steel industry, growth has been slow to come to Wilkinsburg. About 20 percent of the borough’s properties are vacant, costing local government $26 million in annual upkeep. It’s a unique approach that aims to humanize long-neglected eyesores, while at the same time encouraging community building.

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