Harrisburg launches housing court to deal with blight

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Harrisburg is trying a new initiative in the years-long fight against blight in the city. A new housing court will begin next week, aimed at streamlining the process of handling codes violations and achieving consistency in sentencing.

“Right now, we just have inconsistency between the various justices in terms of the citations, how they’re treated, the amount of the fine,” said Mayor Eric Papenfuse.

District Judges Rebecca Margerum and David Judy will hear all cases dealing with non-traffic codes violations that occur in the city, including violations related to trash. The housing court will meet weekly, though a day of the week has not been chosen yet, said Papenfuse.

“Nobody is going to want to go to housing court. Nobody is going to want those stiffer, more consistent sentences,” said Papenfuse. The mayor said outstanding violations and fines total around $1 million.

So far this year, there have been 67 cases of code violations, said code administrator Dave Patton. Last year, there were 167 cases. In 2012, Patton said there were 497.

“Because of the fact that there’s maybe five district justices, you have that level of inconsistency in application of some of the fines or dispositions of some of the cases. And, we think just having two district justices just hear all cases, we’re going to get that level of consistency,” said Patton.

Papenfuse said the program is based on a similar one in Pittsburgh. He said he talked with mayors of Lancaster, York and Lebanon earlier this week. He said they were “very interested” in seeing where the project goes.