SQUIRREL HILL (KDKA) — Five houses, each posted with a blue condemnation sign, are threatening to fall down a hillside, leaving their owners in the lurch.
“Am I gonna have to file for bankruptcy or foreclosure? When do I walk away?” homeowner Chloe Alcarez said. “But I don’t want to because this is our home.”
The homeowners blame the landslide on excavation work done by Summerset at Frick — the upscale housing development down below.
“To me, it seems pretty obvious what happened,” Alcarez said.
But that’s something the developer’s partner, the city’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, denies.
“While we certainly have empathy for the homeowners and the situation that they’re currently in, there’s no evidence that we have found where we are at fault nor where we believe our developers are at fault,” Robert Rubinstein, with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, said.
Both sides are at a stalemate. The solution is to build a retaining wall and backfill and stabilize the hillside, but the residents don’t have that kind of money, and the city and the developers are basically saying it’s not their problem.
“In a case like that, I think the best solution is to let a judge and let the court system handle it, which is what we’re doing,” the mayor’s chief of staff, Dan Gilman, said.
Fingers are being pointed all around; one city agency has even filed a citation against its own redevelopment authority for doing the excavation work without a permit.
Gilman says until geological tests determine what caused the slide, the city can’t come to the aid of these private property owners when others in the city face similar problems.
“Unfortunately this is, sadly, a reality, not just in Pittsburgh but across southwestern Pennsylvania where we have significant landslides endangering homes on the South Side Slopes and parts of the North Side,” Gilman said.
But the city could end up paying to demolish the homes, and the homeowners’ attorney, Brad Dornish, says if they go, Beechwood Boulevard itself may follow down the hill, arguing that it’s in the city’s own self-interest to help build the retaining wall.
“It’s a question of an ounce of prevention or a pound of cure,” Dornish said.
The district Councilman Corey O’Connor agrees it’s time the city step up.
“I suggest we work together with the residents and solve the problem,” he said. “So many times we go to court and nothing gets done. Now’s the time to show leadership and solve the problem.”