City Codes Administrator Joe Gerardi said efforts to reduce blighted properties are paying off, with Williamsport actually gaining more dwelling units even with recent demolitions.
Gerardi told a group of Williamsport Rotary members Monday at the Genetti Hotel that the city's list of blighted homes is down to 40 - seven of which are under permit for renovation.
"One of the biggest things I wanted to do was to reduce these blighted properties in eight years," said Gerardi, who became the city's top codes officer in 2008.
He called blight a "distraction on the whole neighborhood (that) really brings down property value."
Of the 117 properties that were on the blighted list, 62 were brought into compliance and 15 were demolished, he said.
One reason that number has been reduced is because of his department's proactive approach to handing codes issues, Gerardi stated. He said his staff of four codes officers routinely look for multiple issues while canvassing city streets.
Weekend inspections also are commonplace, according to Gerardi, which allows his office to keep ahead of unscrupulous contractors.
Gerardi credited Mayor Gabriel J. Campana with giving him "free will to enforce the codes that need to be enforced."
Comparing structures that have been torn down with what is being constructed and renovated, Gerardi said there is more housing availability.
The cost of that housing is the problem, however, he conceded.
"I don't believe we have a housing shortage. I believe we have an affordable housing shortage," he said. "I see it as an affordability issue. That's my opinion on it. I base it on stats."
The codes office can enforce compliance, but can't control rental fees or home sale prices, Gerardi said.
He pointed to overall growth of housing options. In the past 4 1/2 years, the city has seen 133 new hotel rooms constructed with 97 now under construction, 61 new apartment units constructed with 32 new units under construction and 27 new homes constructed.
In that same time, 84 structures have been demolished - mostly single family dwellings - according to city statistics. Those numbers include 40 residential structures razed by Susquehanna Health for its expansion.
There are presently 92 single family homes, 24 multi-family homes and nine building parcels for sale within city limits. There are also about 150 vacant plots within the city on which to build, according to Gerardi.
Regular rental inspections have also helped keep ahead of blight conditions, he said.
"I think it's a good thing for the city," Gerardi said, but he added that a fee should be imposed to help offset city costs.
Regardless of politics, he said the city is "better off now than it was four years ago."