South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By David Assad
Contributing Writer 

Hilltop houses next on demolition list


April 15, 2008

The South Hilltop neighborhoods are next on the list for the city's plan to demolish hundreds of condemned, dilapidated and abandoned houses, according to Michael Huss, the city's public safety director who spoke to an audience at the Arlington Civic Council on April 7.

"The goal is to tear down about 600 houses in the city this year," Director Huss said at the Kaufmann Center on Salisbury Street.

"The demolitions are progressing and we're moving forward," said Mr. Huss, noting Hazelwood was the top priority for tearing down the eyesores which are often havens for squatters and other unsavory individuals, some of them who are involved in drug-dealing.

While the razing of dozens of houses in Hazelwood is winding down, the city will soon concentrate its efforts on the South Hilltop area, most notably Knoxville, Allentown and Beltzhoover. However, Mr. Huss noted that Arlington will not be overlooked during the tear-down program and residents should see a marked improvement in their neighborhood in the coming months.

The elimination of the bad housing stock should not only reduce crime in the city, but it should also make for fewer fire and/or other public safety hazards in the neighborhoods where many of the houses are packed together on the narrow and hilly streets in this part of the city.

Admitting to being less than 100 percent due to an illness, Mr. Huss let Zone 3 Police Commander Larry Ross do most of the presentation at the ACC meeting, but the public safety director did wrap his brief comments by noting that crime statistics were down overall in 2007 throughout Pittsburgh. He added by saying that Commander Ross is, "a very responsive, hard-working policeman who does a very good job in protecting your zone. You are fortunate to have a man who shows the level of protection for you that he does. He is cognizant of your problems and he is working hard on your behalf."

Mr. Ross told the audience that all residents with basic "quality of life" issues in their neighborhood should call 311 for help.

"It is a good tool to use," said Commander Ross, noting that calling 911 is mostly for emergencies while calling 311 is to give information to the city about things such as abandoned vehicles, pothole problems or noticing squatters living in abandoned properties.

There were questions by residents directed at Mr. Huss and Mr. Ross about calling 911 or 311. A young mother informed the director that calling a 911 operator can be an exasperating experience. She noted that an operator can make the victim feel like the bad guy with their myriad of questions, some of them somewhat personal in nature.

The commander and the director said that 911 dispatcher/operators must be thorough in answering a call in order to prioritize them. For example, if one call is about loud music while another is about a house break-in, obviously the break-in is going to get priority and a quicker response from police.

Mr. Huss said that a call about a medical problem will be "drilled down" with many questions in order to determine the criteria for the level of response that the police/EMS needs to give.

The response is based on a computer analysis that is determined after information is given by the caller in crisis.

"I know it's unfortunate [when a dispatcher appears to be curt or rude to the caller], but we need to be accurate in order to assess the call," Mr. Huss said.

Mr. Ross told the residents in the audience to keep calling the 311 and 911 numbers for any problems that may arise.

"We can't do this by ourselves. We are taking measures to insure your safety, but we need your help," Mr. Ross said. "Every little bit helps."

The commander said he has gotten the assistance and cooperation from the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office and from the local branch of the FBI in staying ahead of the drug-dealing problems.

"We try to stay ahead of the trends," said Mr. Ross, noting police patrols should be more visible in Arlington with the warmer weather starting this month.

"We're beefing up our patrols," he said. "I take my job seriously."

Also attending the meeting was councilman Bruce A. Kraus.


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