While new homes and businesses are breaking ground on an increasingly frequent basis, there are many older homes that need to be taken down. These abandoned homes can be a haven for criminal activity, vagrants and fires, so the city maintains and monitors an ever-expanding and ever-changing list of condemned houses.
“Our list of condemned houses ranges between 50 and 75 at any given time,” said Jessica Scott, director of development services for the city. “Some houses come off the list because people buy them. Some are torn down by the owners, and some the city has to tear down.”
The city prioritizes which houses get demolished first by the condition of the property, with the most dangerous houses topping the list. These houses typically fall into two categories: severe fire damage and those that have become a hub for drug dealing. Drug houses are typically occupied by squatters.
“The problem with drug houses is that once people know they can go there to buy drugs, new dealers come in once the original people are gone,” Scott said. “This can make the entire neighborhood dangerous, so unfortunately, the easiest way to stop that kind of activity is to get rid of the houses entirely.”
For those homes not falling into the extremely dangerous category, it can take several months to even begin talks of demolition. After the city posts a sign proclaiming a property uninhabitable, the state then gives the homeowner between 18 and 36 months to make repairs. The length of time given is based on the severity of problems with the property.
“After that 18 to 36 months, we then have a hearing where we talk with the owner about the property,” Scott said. “Sometimes the owner says they will tear it down, and sometimes it’s up to the city.” She said that in some cases, the homeowner is able to make the required renovations to get the house back up to code.
“We work with people as much as we possibly can,” Scott said. “We really don’t want to tear down somebody’s property if they still want it.” If the city is forced to demolish a property, the owner will retain the land but receive a bill from the city. If the owner chooses not to pay the bill, a lien is placed on the property, the county will claim the land if the taxes remain unpaid. If it gets to this point, the city will not be reimbursed for any of its costs. Those unpaid costs come from the city’s demolition budget.
“For the past several years we’ve only had a $30,000 budget, but this year we have $40,000,” Scott said. The increased funding will help the city tear down more condemned homes. Last year, the city was able to demolish almost 50 houses, and Scott hopes to surpass that number this year.
While the most dangerous locations are coming down year round, condemned housing will become a major focus of code enforcement this winter.