Lancaster authorities scrambled to find temporary housing for at least 17 people Thursday after inspectors condemned a string of seven aging row houses, citing structural flaws.
The residents, a mix of renters and homeowners, won’t be allowed to return to the homes in the 500 block of North Plum Street unless properties are declared safe by a structural engineer, Jesus “Butch” Vega, city housing inspector supervisor, said.
Some homes were evacuated as a precaution and may need minimal or no repairs.
“I’m upset about the whole situation,” said a displaced tenant who lived on the block since 1988. “These places should never have been let go like this.”
A couple of residents who were leaving with suitcases were angry but declined to be interviewed.
Inspectors condemned the seven properties after examining 529 N. Plum St. on Wednesday and found the basement had dropped 7 inches into what could be a sinkhole, perhaps caused by infiltrating stormwater.
The settling of the basement has occurred over many years, said the elderly homeowner, who did not want to be identified. The home’s walls have also shifted, leaving a side door askew.
Sources told LNP that inspectors videotaped water rushing into the sinking basement during heavy rain Wednesday.
Inspectors examined adjacent homes and found structural problems that were possibly related in three houses north and three houses south of 529 N. Plum St., Vega said.
The affected properties are 523, 525, 527, 529, 531, 533 and 535 N. Plum St. They are brick houses with two and one-half stories and are about 120 years old.
The city has posted on the front of each house a red sign with a white X, alerting first responders to not enter the vacated properties in case of fire.
“It’s not safe,” Vega said of the situation. “Code enforcement was here this morning, and they agreed to do this just to be safe.”
The vacant home at 527 N. Plum St. was previously condemned, and was being renovated by new owners who purchased it for $80,000 last December from the city’s redevelopment authority, authority minutes show.
Vega expected a structural engineer to be on site no later than Monday to assess what may be needed to make the residences habitable.
In the meantime, the city was tapping an emergency housing fund managed by Community Action Partnership to place residents in a hotel.
Milzy Carrasco, the city’s director of neighborhood engagement, met Thursday afternoon with displaced residents to connect them with temporary housing. She also talked with landlords and homeowners to explain why their properties were condemned.
“Everyone was kind of shocked,” said one landlord, who did not want to be identified. “To throw (residents) out immediately because they think there could be a structural issue, it doesn’t make sense to me. The house was standing there that way for how long?”