Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! Meaning no fundraising but literally out of my pocket using money that I've made selling my artwork, my costs so far for clearing the weeds and exterior trash, cleaning out all of the garbage on the interior, and making the House of Gold art project have exceeded $11,000. That does not include my labor, other volunteer labor or the costs of purchasing the property and ongoing taxes. Additionally - I will do a significant amount of work during demolition/dismantling to keep costs at or below the estimated $25,000. For instance - I will remove the (likely) asbestos siding shingles myself by hand. The professional estimates for that were between 6-10K. I'm legally allowed to do this myself. I know how and have the proper safety gear. I'll only need to rent a lift to reach the higher areas of the house. Although it's not the reason I'm doing it, I know that I will directly and indirectly benefit from this project and am more than happy to spend lots of my own time, energy and money - I just don't have enough of any of those things to do it all by myself!Last updated:
The VPRP is an awesome applicant driven program overseen by Allegheny County. The program encourages residents and citizens to submit applications to purchase, rehab and/or reuse vacant or abandon properties. Properties must be abandon, uncared for and tax delinquent. Applicants decide how thay want to use the property - for instance I could have applied to renovate the house of gold but I applied with the intention of demolishing it. The county then determines if your plan is sound and you have the resources and ability to follow through. They then do their best to acquire the property and clear the taxes and sell the property to you. There are a lot of details and the process takes some time but if you're serious about making your neighborhood better it's a fantastic affordable way to make a difference. For more information check out http://www.alleghenycounty.us/economic/residents/vacproprecov.aspxLast updated:
Well, for a number of reasons. As you can see from everything I am investing in dismantling this house and asking you to invest in doing so - demolition is not something I'm very happy about. But for this particular property at this point in time it really is the only option.
The short answer is - Allegheny County has condemned this property and I am required to demolish it. But the long answer is far more complex. Let's start with some facts. I bought the house because it was literally falling down into my yard. For the 6 years that I've lived next door the house has been abandon, boarded up with broken windows, no one caring for the yard and no one paying the taxes. The only things going in and out of the house were junkies and raccoons and occasionally a kid. I own the 103 year old former fire station next door where I live and work. From the roof of my building I could see big holes in the roof of the house and much of the roof did not have any shingles on it at all. Both additions to the house, likely made in the 40s or 50s have separated from the house in spots and are in danger of completely falling down. The house was becoming an increasing danger everyday. So a few years ago I tried to track down the owner to see if he would be interested in selling the house to me. He never responded to my phone calls or letters. The Borough of Wilkinsburg recommended that I use the County Vacant Property Recovery Program to try to buy the property. In using that program I could apply to renovate or demolish. I was not legally allowed to enter the house so I had to make this decision interior unseen and I had to prove to the county via architect's plans, contractor's estimates and bank statements that I had a full plan for renovation and the funds in the bank for the complete renovation immediately. Renovating it slowly over time was not an option when using this program nor was stabilizing and mothballing. Additionally, here are some facts about the community I live in. In 1950 Wilkinsburg had 31,000 residents – today there are 15,000. Wilkinsburg has two stable, densely populated neighborhoods one call Black Ridge at the top of the hill. And one that is a part of Regent Square, which is on the other side of the tracks – literally. I don't live in either – I live in the middle where the population decline has hit Wilkinsburg the hardest. Within 10 blocks of the House of Gold in any direction I would estimate that only between 1-5 houses are occupied per block. Many houses have long ago fallen down, burned down or been torn down and many remain boarded up and abandon. The property values where I live are very low. The assessed value of the House of Gold and land is $9,900. And in an effort to make up for the population decline the tax rate is very high. To give you an example – the school tax millage in the City of Pittsburgh is 9.84 and in Wilkinsburg it is 32.63. Wilkinsburg school’s test scores are currently dead last in the entire state of Pennsylvania and the crime rate – particularly in my neighborhood – is very high. A simple google search for Wilkinsburg news will give you a sense of the crime. I love living in Wilkinsburg but I say all of this to illustrate that convincing someone to buy or rent a large, newly renovated house in this neighborhood would be a very difficult sell. Add to all of this the fact that this house sits on a very small, noisy (it’s 5 feet from a bus stop) site. At the time I was purchasing my house and still today I felt certain that my only options were to watch the house slowly fall down or buy it and demolish it. So then, when I owned the house – I went inside. I was surprised by the age of the house but not the condition. And I got very excited by the possibilities of saving the 140 year old material – not the house. This house was not built by wealthy people and it has never been owned by wealthy people. The wood is almost entirely pine and the later additions, renovations and changes were made using the most modest materials available at the time. Walls have been moved, one fireplace is closed up, a staircase removed and covered up. This house – though interesting because of its age – is not a distinguished or intact example of a house of its era – in any way. And although I am a working artist I have two degrees in architecture so I do know a thing or two about buildings. Once I was inside I thought – the details that remain should be made available to people with houses of this era to help with their renovation or restoration efforts. The rest of the reusable material should be kept and reused instead of smashed into bits and sent to the landfill.
Lastly – I bought the 103 year old firehouse a few weeks after I first saw it but it had been on the market for several years and had even gone to sheriff's sale at one point and no one bid on it. I have been slowly but lovingly renovating it and expect to live out my life here. I have also put 7 formerly abandoned, tax delinquent properties on my block back on the tax roll – the House of Gold is one and the others were vacant lots piled with garbage, tires and weeds. They were all properties where the previous owners stopped caring long ago. I care deeply about my property and the property around me. I am a working artist – that means I make a living solely as an artist. I don't have a trust fund, I don’t have wealthy parents, in fact I don't have parents at all, I don’t have a spouse or the support of a University or the financial comfort of a day job – yet I still manage and continue to strive to contribute to my community. So far I have invested about $11,000 of my own money into the property of the House of Gold and countless days of time and energy, which I expect to continue to do.
If you add everything I’ve just shared with you together I hope that you can see the full picture of why I chose not to renovate the House of Gold. And I hope that you will join me and support this Gentle Demolition. I really believe that through this project the spirit of the house will live on.Last updated:
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