Professor testifies at blight conservatorship hearing

Joseph Sabino MistickAssociate professor Joseph Sabino Mistick, who leads the Urban Development Practicum, recently testified at a PA Senate and House hearing about the 2008 conservatorship process that allows court takeover of blighted buildings by responsible owners, a law his students were involved with from the beginning.

"It was a good law with good intentions to help neighborhood groups. It was meant to protect neighborhoods from blight and give people most affected by blight a chance to do something about it," Mistick said.

The well-intentioned act, last amended in 2014, has in recent years fallen victim to predatory nonprofits. The hearing with lawmakers involved Mistick, other attorneys, and urban development professionals to strategize ways to combat these organizations from taking advantage of the law.

"Laws have weaknesses and after any law is in effect someone finds them. Predator nonprofits are being formed- they are for profit enterprises in disguise. They look for property to take with this act and turn a profit. That is not the intention of the act. We talked about how we can modify the law in a way that it continues to do what it was intended," Mistick said.

Mistick has been working with students to formulate ways to correct the law. There are some proposed amendments and students in practicum work are handing some cases in New Castle, PA.

He said, "There are some ideas on how to correct it. If it more closely follows eminent domain in PA, there are lots of problems. You could raise the price for admission for predator nonprofits. Private investment is good, but they need to play by same rules as neighborhood groups do, like revitalize property in all neighborhoods, not cherry pick the neighborhoods where values are increasing."

The law has been positive overall improving properties, but it needs some tweaking to remain fair and serve as it was originally intentioned. "The law is still doing great things; it just needs some attention right now to get back on track and to protect it from people who use it strictly for profit," said Mistick.

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