State House Sound Bites

Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.

For ideas to help cities, lawmakers go to the source

Written by Mary Wilson, Capitol Bureau Chief | Jun 2, 2013 8:17 PM
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Lawmakers are canvassing the state in search of ideas to help save Pennsylvania's struggling cities. A series of hearings with the state Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee kicked off last week in Pittsburgh, with stops planned in York and Reading.

The panel's chairman, Sen. Dave Argall (R-Schuylkill), said one of the big takeaways, so far, has been the ubiquity of deteriorating and derelict properties.

"Blight is blight, whether it's in a large city or in a small town," he said, remarking on the number of locally elected officials who "acknowledge that the state has given them some new tools in fighting blight, in fighting, I guess for want of a better term, slumlords." But some say the state aid meant to minimize blight in urban centers is being sucked into the suburbs to help fund brand-new developments.

Argall said the scope of his panel's work is limited when it comes to helping cities shift their focus as their local economies change. The committee isn't focusing on the many fundamental problems bedeviling mayors and city councils, like soaring pension and health care costs and an anemic tax base.

Instead, Argall and his colleagues have gone in search of ways to tweak laws to encourage smarter development. One early idea: allowing subsidized housing projects target mixed incomes, instead of only low-income units.

"In many cases those programs are limited to low-income housing," said Argall, "and concentrations of poverty is not a really good strategy for rebuilding your community."

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