York aims to tackle derelict housing

news@enquirerherald.comJuly 31, 2013 

— Some city leaders say York has too many unoccupied, derelict houses that are an eyesore. And they want to do something about it.

“You would be amazed at how many houses we have in bad shape,” said City Council member Charles Johnson, who said he believes city officials need to address the problem.

Johnson wants the city to budget enough money to tear down at least a couple of the homes every year. He hopes the City Council can set aside some money to begin that project in the coming budget year, which begins Oct. 1.

“There are a lot of them all around town — all you have to do is drive around and see,” said Johnson. “We’ve got to figure out how to get rid of some of them. They are not saveable. We need to get rid of them.”

Johnson said there are several homes in need of being torn down in his neighborhood, on Lowry Row and Washington Street. But he said he sees them all over the city, even on Congress and Liberty streets.

“They’re everywhere,” he said.

Planning director David Breakfield said the city received a government grant several years ago to tear down derelict houses. He said they were able to get rid of about 18 or 20 homes at that time.

Breakfield said that York, like many other communities, has a derelict structure process that it can use to condemn and remove housing that’s unsafe or in poor condition.

City Manager Charles Helms said it costs an estimated $4,000 to $6,000 to tear down each home, depending on the size. He said most of the homes are small.

Helms said the city plans to seek a grant to assist with demolition costs from the Catawba Regional Council of Governments. He said that would allow the city to tackle more houses than without the grant money.

However, he also said the city will have to meet certain qualifications to obtain the grant, such as showing that such homes are in areas with higher crime rates.

The grant also requires the city to match the money, he said, so the city will need to budget some money for that purpose.

Helms said the owners of the derelict homes often don’t have the money to tear down the houses themselves. He also said most of the homes are on small lots that are not buildable under current codes.

The city can place a lien on the property through its derelict structure process and tear the house down. However, he said the small lots are unlikely to sell, unless a neighbor wants to buy the lot to expand his or her property.

Johnson said he believes investing some money to work on the problem would be worth it. “Every city has them, but we’ve got so many of them. I hate looking at them every day,” he said.

Helms said the City Council will consider a proposed budget that will include money for the derelict housing problem at its Aug. 6 meeting. A final vote on the budget will be at the Sept. 3 meeting.

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