Officials from Reading, England, and Reutlingen, Germany recently visited Reading, PA as part of the city’s 275th anniversary celebration.
One of our English delegates said, “Reading has an aching potential.”
The statement struck a chord with City Councilwoman Donna Reed in regards to the more than 268 blighted properties in the City of Reading. Many others have been identified as empty, deteriorated and neglected or have had water and sewer or other utility services shut off, bringing the total closer to 300 or more.
Donna Reed said the following during a City Council meeting on blighted properties on March 20, 2023: “People deserve to hear answers from us. And, you know, it’s not casting aspersions on anyone but somehow some way legislatively. Administratively, we got to do something because right now, that aching potential is very clear.”
Below: Donna Reed statement during March 20, 2023 Reading City Council Meeting.
City Council members want a crackdown on the owners of blighted and vacant buildings.
One of the biggest hurdlers is contacting and holding responsible out-of-town and local property owners, who often hide behind limited liability companies.
State law makes it very difficult to identify the individuals and partners that make up an LLC, City Solicitor Fred Lachat said. “Unfortunately, Pennsylvania has very weak veil piercing,” he said. “For us to really make a difference, we would need some type of legislative action.”
Several vacant high-profile and landmark buildings in the city’s commercial core are owned by LLCs, Council President Donna Reed noted.
There are some legal processes the city can use to take a property from its owner or owners but very little else can be done to hold those behind the LLCs accountable without stronger state laws.
State law allows the authority to exercise its powers of eminent domain in order to eliminate blight.
But simply taking ownership of blighted properties is not enough.
Alan Shuman, with Shuman Development Group says he wants to see more oversight when it comes to buying the properties.
“Properties in Reading are cheap compared to buying a similar sized property in New York or New Jersey,” said Alan Shuman.
“Because they’re cheap compared to those prices, they can come here,” said Shuman. “People with absolutely no experience in development. They’ve never done any.”
“These buildings end up sitting here for years and years until eventually, the walls peel off or they’re condemned and they start suffering serious damage. And then, they try to flip it to another group in New York or New Jersey,” Shuman said.
“I’m sick and tired of defining the problem,” Councilman Christopher Daubert said during a workshop on the topic. “We all know what the problem is. We just need to actually act.”
Now is the time for people who love Reading to demand city council to do what they are supposed to do.