By Kaylee Lindenmuth
It's an odd feeling seeing your first bathtub where you used to run around as a toddler.
Being back from Kutztown University for a weekend, that's what I discovered peering through the windows of the East Laurel Street home where I lived as a toddler. The impulse came out of nostalgia, but what I saw was depressing, but, in our region, isn't shocking.
If I remember correctly, this is the first editorial I've written in the two year history of The Sentinel -- I make every effort to separate my opinion from the news content, that's a journalist's duty -- and I intend for this to be a one-off thing, but there are items I feel need to be said, given the trends of our region.
I was born two weeks into 1999, and my family left East Laurel in May of 2003. My first four years of life occurred in that home, situated on a steep hill underneath Burger King. Despite my young age at the time, I still have vivid memories of that home, aided by stories and videotapes recorded on my mother's JVC camcorder.
I remember sharing the rear bedroom with a sibling, and being woken up at 6:00am by "Welcome to Burger King, how can I help you?" seemingly blaring from the drive through.
You might be wondering why does this matter enough to be an editorial on this page? What happened to that house isn't a first, and it most certainly won't be the last, and the trend that led to this greatly contrasts with the momentum of our downtown.
My family rented the home from 1993 to 2003. It sold three times while we lived there, and according to my mother, we moved after our landlord failed to renew our lease. Three years prior, the home had been sold for what the Schuylkill County Parcel Locator lists as $121,700.
Four years after we moved, in 2007, the house sold again, this time for back taxes, selling for the price of a used car, $3,900. It has remained vacant since we moved in '03.
It sold again a year later, in 2008, for $5,900 to Said Attalla, 1520 Watersedge Road, Mississauga, Ontario.
Attalla owns four properties in Schuylkill County, according to the parcel locator, three of which are in northern Schuylkill -- two in Shenandoah and one in Mahanoy City.
WNEP-TV 16 and the Pottsville Republican-Herald reported in 2015 that Attalla fled the country, leaving blighted properties in the county, which at that time was especially true for my old home. Two years prior, in 2013, my family obtained photos of the kitchen, showing ceiling tiles in the kitchen sink, a dilapidated mess where our family meals formerly occurred.
Our old home follows a trend, alongside many other residential properties in our region, in which a property owner gives up on the home, and, instead of finding a buyer or repairing the home, they let the home go up for back taxes, where another buyer purchases the home for dirt cheap, but the new owner brings more of the same.
It's a trend, not a rule. While some properties are renovated and brought back to life, others just change hands via sheriff's sales, while they're left to collapse. It's occurred to my former neighbor's home on Laurel Street as well, its windows sit smashed.
I observed it with three properties on my longtime route to school along West Mount Vernon Street. One of those properties still stands at the corner of Catherine and Mount Vernon, with a wall bowing out towards the street.
This trend occurs in our residential neighborhoods, while our downtown seems to finally be leveling out, possibly rising. New businesses are opening, and the downtown innovation center plan looks to help turn around our region, in both image and economics.
However, that growth remains threatened if a quarter of our homes remain empty and/or abandoned. Our vacant homes need to be purchased by those who have the intents and resources to renovate them, and bring them back to life.
I don't know what exactly can be done to alleviate the problem, the legal world can be a difficult place for action to occur, but it's my hope that property owners might finally step up and look to improve their properties and improve this town and this region.
(To tie up loose ends, my family has, like many others in the region, struggled economically for much of my life. Home ownership hasn't been a possibility in my lifetime, or we might still be living on that hill at the south end of town.)