Monday, April 19, 2010

Mayor Dean seeks demolition funds

He wants $114K to level dangerous derelict houses in Nashville By Jenny Upchurch • THE TENNESSEAN • April 19, 2010 Metro Council on Tuesday will consider spending more money to tear down some of Nashville's most dangerous derelict houses. But that comes too late for Victoria Boyd. A condemned house next door caught fire April 1, and it spread to Boyd's home and two others on Wilburn Street in East Nashville. "We lost everything," Boyd said. "My mom lost the only photo she had of her mother, my grandmother. "I told my mom, 'They need to tear this house down,' " when they moved next door to 316 Wilburn, a Victorian two-story with a collapsed roof and burned-out doors and windows. Metro Codes had that house under a demolition order for months after a fire in 2008. But the money ran out last fall, leaving 37 properties to wait until more funding is allocated in the new budget beginning July 1. Mayor Karl Dean last week requested $114,000 to tear some of those properties down now. That should take care of 17 of them, and Codes has a priority list. Too late, says Councilman Jamie Hollin, whose district includes Wilburn Street. "It should have been gone — it shouldn't have been there," Hollin said of the abandoned house. The fire was arson, Metro says. Leaving houses like that is a "lose-lose situation," Hollin said. Twenty-three people lost belongings and homes. A block of tidy homes is now a burned-out debris field. Metro has lost future property taxes. The fire spread to two homes Mike O'Neill owns. One was damaged. The other, which Boyd's family rented, was destroyed. It would cost about $300,000 to rebuild the 1900 Victorian cottage, "but you're never going to re-create it," he said. Cleveland Park is steadily gentrifying, and O'Neill expects that house would have been restored as a single-family home as in nearby Lockeland Springs, adding to its value and the property taxes. Instead, he'll demolish it and perhaps the other. "That building should have been secured better," O'Neill said of 316 Wilburn. "My tenants said people were constantly in and out." If Codes lacks money to tear all the dangerous buildings down, he said, "Why don't they take 10 percent of that amount and board them up properly? That might be an interim measure." Compliance problems Codes can order property owners to board up buildings, but it can't do the work, says Bill Penn, head of the property standards division. "We can get the authority to demolish a building, but Metro is not responsible for the building," he said. Penn has cases in court against several property owners, but some just won't comply. One owner has been fined, even jailed, but has not repaired or removed any of his buildings. The extra money "will put a significant dent in what needs to be torn down," Penn said. "Any properties that remain will have to wait until our next appropriation." Codes had $155,000 this year for demolitions. The amount in the new budget hasn't been determined. Metro will place liens on all of the demolished properties for costs, typically $7,000, but might not collect for years. Hollin wants to tap another source. Metro received $2 million from the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program to buy and rehabilitate homes and then sell them. Rules were relaxed this month so the Metro Development and Housing Agency could buy uninhabitable homes with lingering code violations. MDHA officials said Friday they would work with Codes to buy homes in the demolition backlog, tear down the derelict structures and build new houses. "Why not let MDHA give money to Codes or let Codes and MDHA use it together to clear that list?" Hollin said.

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