UPDATE: After the original story aired on KDKA, October Development said it is dropping some homeowners from its suit.
October said it did not intend to take anyone’s home and only wanted to help improve them. The developer said it will drop those homeowners from its suit and focus on abandoned blighted properties in the neighborhood.READ MORE: Pittsburgh Weather: Wind Chill Advisory For Regions North, East Of Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Imagine you’ve lived in your home for decades, paid your taxes and kept it in good shape.
Then, suddenly, someone slaps a piece of paper on your door saying your home is blighted and you could lose ownership. As KDKA Investigator Andy Sheehan found out, several North Side homeowners say they’re now facing that situation.
Debbie Schultheis has lived on Vista Street in Spring Garden her entire life. She bought her house 32 years ago and since then, she and her husband have worked to improve it.
“We’ve done a new roof, new siding, new sidewalk, new gas and water service lines, new kitchen three years ago,” said Schultheis.
Imagine her surprise when she says she found a notice posted on her door, accompanied with a sheath of legal papers saying hers was one of 97 properties in Spring Garden that are blighted, and she could lose ownership under a new state law.
“I want to know who gets to decide it’s blighted,” said Schultheis. “I don’t understand how someone can come in on a technicality and try to take your home from you.”
For the past several years, a group called October Development has been acquiring and rehabbing properties throughout the North Side. It is now using the state’s new Conservership Law to get control of homes.
Under the law, October Development would become the conservator of those properties and take steps to improve them — thereby having priority to buy or take ownership.
“It’s an inappropriate use of the law. It is an irresponsible use of the law,” said attorney Gillian McTiernan.
The law is meant to make it easier to restore blight, but McTiernan, who is representing a few of these residents, calls October Development’s use of it predatory, amounting to a hostile takeover of an entire neighborhood.
“It’s actually meant to do good in communities but to prevent these predatory land grabs, which is exactly what this seems to be,” said McTiernan.READ MORE: National Transportation Safety Board Investigating Fern Hollow Bridge Collapse
In its petition, October has posted many abandoned and decidedly blighted properties. The developer says it has tried unsuccessfully to acquire many of them, which are now owned by the city of Pittsburgh and have either been cited for violations or show signs of disrepair.
“This neighborhood has faced blight and neglect for decades. There has not been a plan to develop it from the city or anyone else also for decades. October Development taking this on is really an act of love,” said October Development’s attorney Dan Friedson.
But while the developer says it does not intend to kick anyone out of their home or building, it has cast a wide net over Spring Garden, including the Teutonia Maennerchor German Club and an apparently well-kept house that Bill Vlakancic owns and lives in.
“He can try to come and take it, but it’d have to be a lot more than him. I can tell you that,” Vlakancic said.
Schultheis feels the same way.
Sheehan: So you have blood, sweat and tears in this house?
Schultheis: I do. An entire lifetime.
Sheehan: And somebody justs wants to take it?
Schultheis: Now that it’s paid off, they think they can take it from me.
Sheehan: Is that going to happen?
Schultheis: Absolutely not, not if I can help it.MORE NEWS: Man Shot In Sheraden Overnight, Taken To Hospital
As a result of KDKA’s investigation, that will not happen. After KDKA confronted the developer about Schultheis’ house, October Development indicates it will now drop her from its suit.