City Focuses Efforts On Eliminating Nuisance Properties

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COLUMBIA - The city has announced a 2014 plan to rid Columbia of vacant, unlivable homes that bring down neighborhood property values and threaten safety.

Nuisance properties are characterized by severe code violations, such as holes in the roof, unstable floors, and absence of heating and plumbing systems--all of which deem a property unfit for human occupancy.

"One of the things that we really made an emphasis on in this last year and as we look on to FY 14 is making a special effort to look at our nuisance properties," Neighborhood Services Manager Leigh Britt said. "When I say nuisance properties, those would be vacant or abandoned properties that have significant code violations, where they are not safe for someone to live."

Columbia houses nearly 20 severe nuisance properties. Nearby residents face the prospect of reduced property values or worse. Philip Gresham lives next door to two nuisance properties.

"As soon as we purchased the house, and even beforehand, we started to look at the neighborhood and noticed these two properties were vacant. Initially the problem was the question of property value, but not it's also the question of safety whether the buildings are being occupied by squatters," Gresham said.

Solutions to the problem include contacting owners to fix the house or even trying to buy it.

"I've contacted one of the owners of one of the properties that was somewhat of a fruitless effort. Otherwise, I've talked to the city about purchasing another," Gresham said.

But a sale isn't easy to carry out.  The city must go through a process of hearings to determine the need to take over the house, and that can take a long time.  Still, Britt said she prefers situations like this because the city would rather sell the properties than demolish them.

"The last ditch effort would be the city to come in and tear it down," Britt said. "That's not necessarily the best resource, use of the city, and it's not the best thing for a neighborhood."

This is because tearing down vacant houses still costs money. Britt said it would cost anywhere from $10-15,000 because the city has to correct sewer lines along with the demolition.

Britt also said she encourages people to reach out to the city if they have any concerns, and it will treat those complaints as priority.

Neighborhood Services releases information upon request regarding nuisance properties. As of now, city priorities include 801 Hunt Avenue, 903 North Garth, 300 North Garth, 212 Third Avenue, 2411 Carter Lane, 301 West Ash Street, 317 Lasalle Place, 600 Mary Street, 106 Lynn Street, 110 Lynn Street, 15 East Worley Street, 410 North Fifth Street, and 1013 Crump Lane.

The city is monitoring 11 East Forest Avenue, 318 West Boulevard North, 24 West Boulevard North, 1616 Kathy Drive, 208 West Sexton Road, 408 Alexander Avenue, 112 Benton Street, 1105 Grand Avenue, 4403 Rice Road, 308 West Worley Street, 109 Albany Drive, 419 North Garth Avenue, 404 Hickman Avenue, and 400 Hickman Avenue.