Special Report: Fighting the blight - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Special Report: Fighting the blight

This year, the city is spending $200,000 to clean up blighted properties. This year, the city is spending $200,000 to clean up blighted properties.
Code enforcers have demolished more than 500 overgrown and abandoned homes in the last 8 years, but many residents and even city leaders say the problem still exists. Code enforcers have demolished more than 500 overgrown and abandoned homes in the last 8 years, but many residents and even city leaders say the problem still exists.
With blighted properties scattered around Albany, it can be difficult to know where to start. With blighted properties scattered around Albany, it can be difficult to know where to start.
Officials said more than 20 homes are ready for destruction. Officials said more than 20 homes are ready for destruction.
ALBANY, GA (WALB) -

Code enforcers have demolished more than 500 overgrown and abandoned homes in the last 8 years, but many residents and even city leaders say the problem still exists.

The city has spent over $1 million in that time period cleaning up blighted properties, but code enforcers still have a long way to go in fighting the blight.

Doris Carr has lived at her home on East Residence 50 years.

“I don't like the neighborhood no more and if I was able I would move out. I can't afford to move because I'm too old,” said Carr.

The once thriving East Albany neighborhood is not the same. Dilapidated and overgrown homes surround Ms. Carr.

Right next door sits a perfect example.

"It makes my property value go down, down to the nitty gritty," said Ms. Carr.

Carr says drugs and other illegal activity run rampant in the home commonly occupied by vagrants. It's one of many blighted properties in Albany.

"There's definitely a problem with that in Albany,” said Chief Code Enforcement Officer Robert Carter.

He says it's an epidemic that devalues everything in Albany.

"The neighborhood safety, the neighborhood's property value, the neighborhood's comfort, being able to enjoy their property, as well as the investment in our city,” said Carter.

But it's a problem city leaders are determined to fix.

"We are all willing to look at this," said Mayor Pro Temp Bobby Coleman. "I'm glad this is a priority because as I stand here and show you this property here, I can take you throughout Albany and show you in my ward, Ward 2, as well as across the city and this is a problem."

With blighted properties scattered around Albany, it can be difficult to know where to start.

"A large percentage of them come from complaints from the neighbors. We definitely ask neighbors to let us know what's in their neighborhood," said Carter.

After that complaint comes, inspectors go out to the home and give the homeowner an opportunity to address the issues.

“Unfortunately a lot of people don't respond and may be absentee property owners," said Carter. "They may be people who just don't have the resources to reinvest in the property.”

A long, arduous process starts with court battles and legal hurdles that can prevent demolition from happening for years. It's what allowed the backlog of properties to grow to at least 176.

Officials said 23 of those are ready for destruction.

MORE: Interactive map of blighted homes in Albany

"Every dilapidated structure we take out and get rid of, whether it's renovated or demolished, improves the look, the impression, the value of the city of Albany," said Carter.

Many of the overgrown properties are located in central, South, and East Albany, but Carter says no neighborhood is immune to the problem.

The best remedy to these eyesores is demolition.

"If we can improve that area, then an owner of a neighboring property who may be in decline will be more willing to invest to bring his property up," said Carter.

This year, the city is spending $200,000 to clean up blighted properties.

The goal is to have them completely manicured and cleaned up.

A broader goal would be for them to look like a stretch in South Albany as redeveloped apartments.

"The city has great infrastructure. We have everything we need from a water gas, light, everything is available in these neighborhoods,” said Carter. “They could actually go in and redevelop those neighborhoods.”

"It would mean a lot, a whole lot. It'd bring my property value probably back up some," said Doris Carr.

It would also make many of these neighborhoods safer in the future.

Carter insists the blight remains a high priority on city leaders' lists and hopes the number of blighted properties shrinks to close to zero 10 years from now.

The demolition costs about $4,000 on average, but that price can vary based on the condition of the home.

Excluding 2015, 520 homes have been demolished since 2007. From 2007 to 2011, 318 were done. In 2012 alone 104 were cleaned up. Crews cleaned up an additional 62 in 2013 and 40 in 2014. So far in 2015, 23 are ready for demolition, while 153 remain in legal battles in court.

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