Home improvement: Residential owners get assist as Latrobe looks to check blight

Mark Durkay put a new front porch and steps on his Latrobe home a few years ago, but his family wasn’t able to fit a replacement for their weathered front door and broken storm door into their budget.

“We had a new porch made with bricks, but the door was real shabby,” Durkay said. “We were trying to save up for a door.”

But, he said the $2,000 price was too much of a stretch for their limited income.

State funding and a partnership between a local nonprofit and business last year allowed Durkay to get the new door and make other exterior improvements to the Lloyd Avenue house — part of Latrobe’s steps to head off blight in the city.

Durkay’s home was listed in fair condition, based on a 2021 inventory of about 3,900 Latrobe properties by city and West­moreland County staff. The study determined 368 city properties (about 9%) were in fair condition and 57 (1.5%) were rated as poor — with problems such as peeling paint, cracked bricks or rotting wood.

Four “fair” residences — including Durkay’s — and one “poor” one have been upgraded by receiving a share of $150,000 through a state Neighborhood Assistance Program.

The improvements were overseen in 2023 by the nonprofit Latrobe Community Revitalization Program, which received the $150,000 as a donation from Latrobe-based Robindale Energy; the company, in turn, received a $112,500 state tax credit.

The same partners are preparing to repeat the effort this year.

“Now we don’t have a dilapidated door,” said Durkay, noting his family has owned the house for almost 20 years. “Now we have a good-looking house that’s at least comparable to most of those on Lloyd Avenue. We intend to maintain and upkeep that.”

Jarod Trunzo, executive director of the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program, said the organization, working in coordination with the city, wants to keep houses that have maintenance problems from deteriorating to the point where they may have to be demolished.

“With inflation,” Trunzo said, “a lot of times, people who have properties that are in fair condition have to spend their money on food, medical bills or work on their vehicles. We don’t want to see those properties slipping into blight; we want to see them move from fair to good.

“Helping property owners who are on that bubble can have a catalytic effect,” Trunzo said, noting it can enhance the appearance and property values in a neighborhood.

“I’ve since seen a couple of properties for sale for $200,000,” he said.

Who is eligible

Latrobe Community Revitalization is targeting owner-occupied, income-eligible single-family homes. According to Trunzo, recipients must be in good standing on local tax bills and have a commitment to remain in their home.

If the home is sold within four years of completing the improvements, the recipient must pay back a portion of the funding.

Durkay’s home received improvements valued at about $20,000, and he was required to invest a 15% match through expenditures or labor.

Contractors engaged by the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program replaced the front and storm doors and built a roof over the porch to help protect the door from the elements. They also applied a waterproof seal to the foundation, replaced a basement window and assisted with landscaping improvements.

Durkay paid for some interior upgrades and dug a ditch to accommodate a new downspout.

“The grant money enabled us to get all this done,” Durkay said. “We didn’t have to piecemeal it.”

Several of last year’s Neighborhood Assistance Program projects added to previous efforts to improve housing and eliminate blight along Lloyd Avenue, one of the main entrances into the city.

Targeted areas

Lloyd Avenue, together with Latrobe’s 1st Ward, represents one of three areas of the city identified as having the highest concern for blight, based on the 2021 property inventory.

Other areas are centered on Ligonier and Jefferson streets, between Chestnut and Gertrude streets, and Ligonier Street, east of Cedar Street.

In addition to meeting other criteria, the community revitalization program will give priority to homes in one of those areas, Trunzo said.

Robindale Energy again is donating $150,000 and has received a tax credit.

A spokesperson said Robindale is “a supporter and contributor to the Latrobe community. We believe in helping to make Latrobe beautiful.”

The Latrobe Community Revitalization Program will send letters to potential funding recipients but also will consider applications and referrals.

“We’re in the initial planning phase,” Trunzo said Wednesday. “In the next month or so, we’ll gear up and send letters out.”

The program can be reached at 724-805-0112.

Jeff Himler is a TribLive reporter covering Greater Latrobe, Ligonier Valley, Mt. Pleasant Area and Derry Area school districts and their communities. He also reports on transportation issues. A journalist for more than three decades, he enjoys delving into local history. He can be reached at jhimler@triblive.com.

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