Not the ‘starter’ desired
Nearly three years ago, Vance County received $1.9 million to build 10 homes as part of a Neighborhood Stabilization Project.
Authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Vance County received the money after being considered a community suffering from foreclosures and abandonment.
Since that time, 10 homes have been built in neighborhoods surrounded by abandoned structures, none of which have sold.
Built in an attempt to provide housing to low-income families, and redevelop areas suffering from foreclosures and abandoned homes, many of the newly-built homes are falling subject to vandalism.
Upon visiting an NSP house located at 460 Cross Street on Tuesday, the home was found with a kicked in open front door, wires torn out from the electric unit, mud tracked through the inside of the home and a suspicious smell, possibly from drugs, was evident.
Two NSP homes are located next to each other on Cross Street, only a couple hundred feet from an abandoned structure that hasn’t been boarded up.
“I think abandoned homes never help anything,” said Faye Guin, a real estate agent with Century 21 on Dabney Drive. “They attract crime, vandalism and anything negative such as that effects anything else, whether it’s a new home, existing home, whatever.”
The NSP homes are available to persons whose income does not exceed 50 percent of the area median income. They could provide benefit to citizens in Henderson, the majority of which would qualify for the low to moderate income housing.
Six of the 10 homes are on streets with between one and five other abandoned homes, many of which breed drug use, crime and vandalism. Unstable abandoned structures that have not been boarded up also present danger to neighborhood children.
“It would be great if we had enough funds to rebuild entire neighborhoods, but we’re working with limited assets, and hopefully these will help promote more positive things in the neighborhood,” said Dan Brummitt, county commissioner and a member of the planning and environmental committee. “They’re a good opportunity for a starter home for someone.”
The fight to combat the growing amount of abandoned homes in Henderson began back in 2004 when the now dismembered Clean Up Henderson Committee compiled the first record of abandoned structures and their locations.
Over 200 structures were listed in the first running tally. Nine years later that number has been reduced to 172.
As concerns about property maintenance issues, abandoned structures and anything causing blight reached the forefront of government leaders concerns, a new department was birthed.
In August of 2004, Henderson’s Code Compliance Department was established by the City Council.
“Prior to 2004, the city didn’t have that focus,” said Corey Williams, code compliance director. “Things got done on a complaint basis, and not from a proactive standpoint.”
Currently, Williams says the department stays relevant, keeping records of abandoned homes, and making regular trips to evaluate nuisance homes.
“Even if we can’t demolish, we try to make sure we get it enforced,” Williams said. “It takes due process. The department stays relevant whether you see demolition or not.”
During the current fiscal year, city council is working with a $49,000 budget for the demolition of abandoned structures, $22,650 of which has already been spent to bring down homes on 228 and 302 Main, 913 and 884 Lamb, and 250 Lowry streets.
While the progress is encouraging, it still leaves many NSP homes surrounded by dangerous, abandoned structures and blight.
Demolishing enough abandoned structures to make a significant dent in the 172 in Henderson would require a budget much heartier than the one City Council is typically provided for demolition.
“During this recession period the funding has been so different with the reduced revenue,” said Ray Griffin, Henderson’s city manager. “We started this year’s budget, for example, with $19,000 and the council raised the sanitation fee by 50 cents to create another $30,000 dedicated revenue stream for the demolition of these structures.”
Ten homes were brought down in 2011-2012, along with the 108-unit Beacon Light apartment complex, demolished with $399,000 in money funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Through foreclosure the county and city have come into ownership of 56 homes, some of which have been identified as abandoned structures.
“One of the main purposes of NSP is to help with foreclosure of homes that are located in areas identified by the state,” said Jerry Ayscue, county manager. “Unfortunately, these areas have other challenges such as abandoned properties and high crime.”
During the Vance County Commissioner’s February board meeting, approval was denied for funds to make repairs due to vandalism on NSP homes.
According to Tommy Hester, commissioner chairman, around $17,000 of damage has been caused to multiple NSP homes.
“Approval was denied due to the fact that we had not come up with a policy to make sure it’s not done again,” Hester said. “We don’t want to get them fixed up and then have them go right back to where they were.”
County commissioner Terry Garrison, also a member of the planning and environmental committee, feels steps need to be taken to get the homes sold.
“I think the repairs need to be done number one, and then number two we need to review the progress that’s been made with respect to getting the homes sold,” Garrison said.
Two homes included in the NSP project have been sitting vacant for over two years: 614 East Andrews Avenue and 661 Charles Street, both built in December of 2010, priced at $80,000 and $83,000, respectively.
For now, both the county and city are faced with the task of stabilizing neighborhoods as commissioners look for ways to make use for the homes, and the city continues the ongoing task of removing abandoned structures.
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