cheap housing program not fully accessible

Mayor Michael Cherepko says he was given no special favors, but the mayor was the first and only person in McKeesport who used this program to build a house.

VIDEO: Watch Paul Van Osdol’s February report

The mayor said he is offering the same deal to anyone who wants to build a home in McKeesport a city peppered with derelict buildings. Only three new homes, including the mayor’s, were built in the past decade.

“Could anyone get the city to get rid of all these tax liens, knock down three buildings, to build a home?” Van Osdol asked.

“Absolutely for a home, commercial business, whatever,” Cherepko said.

Helen Mulac lived in her house for 63 years. She said she would still be living there if not for the dilapidated house next door.

Mulac spent years begging city officials to tear down the neighboring house, but eventually was forced to move. Leaving the home where she raised four children and the city where she had lived her cheap jerseys entire life was not easy.

“Nobody will know how emotional that is. I’m sorry,” Mulac said.

Her house on Converse Street held six decades of memories.

The house next door became an eyesore and a hazard, with water pouring off the roof, icing up her walkway and flooding her basement.

“I was running two dehumidifiers constantly just to keep it dry,” Mulac said.

In December 2011, she went to a public hearing where the city put her neighbor’s house and 10 others on a demolition list.

Dennis Pittman was the city administrator and said that house would have been at the top of the list.

“That was the first priority we had to do, anytime there was an adjoining property owner,” Pittman said.

But weeks after the hearing, Pittman lost his job when the new mayor, Michael Cherepko, took office.

Months went by and nothing happened with the dilapidated house. In April 2013, Mulac met with Cherepko and asked him to tear it down.

“He said the city has no money,” Mulac said. “I said ‘well you know what, tear it down and I will pay the costs of tearing it down.”

Mulac said it should have been a slam dunk, but she never heard back from the mayor.

“I thought the city would help me out and they didn’t,” Mulac said.

But the city did help out the mayor. The city tore down three other abandoned houses at a cost of $12,000 in grant money. Later the city condemned the property, selling it to Cherepko at a fraction of the market value.

When Mulac found out, she was so angry she wrote a letter to the local paper.

“As a city resident, a taxpayer, one who took care of her property, that was like a slap in the face,” Mulac said. “They really didn’t care.”

In a phone interview, Cherepko said he expected Mulac to call him back after their meeting.

“We have 600 to 800 homes in this city that need to be torn down and we can’t do them all at once so we strategize to do them,” Cherepko said.

Last fall Helen sold her house. For the first time in her life she’s living outside McKeesport.

“I keep my property, I pay my taxes, I make no waves and I got nothing,” Mulac said.

The mayor said he hopes to inspire more people to move to McKeesport. But the city’s decision not to tear down the abandoned house means there’s one less person in town.

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