City leaders look to federal funds to solve derelict building problem

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October 9, 2006

Overgrown lots and dilapidated buildings are a common sight in parts of downtown Augusta, but they're more than just an eyesore--they're a hotspot for crime.

Now city leaders want to tackle the problem, but the bigger problem may be coming up with the money.

It's an old problem prevalent in much of downtown Augusta. On one side of the street, you have well-kept homes. On the other, one's boarded up...and oftentimes the property owners are no where to be found.

"It's scary, people can be behind there and watching your house at night," said Gertrude Walker of Augusta, who lives near a dilapidated home. "They sleeps in there, they smokes in there."

The abandoned house across from her downtown home gives you a glimpse of a growing problem that city leaders want to weed out.

"I think it's time that we address these issues and get them cleared up," said Augusta Commissioner Don Grantham.

And there are an estimated three to four buildings like this all over Augusta, with broken glass, overgrown grass, and trash.

City officials say it's not just an eyesore for the community, but a haven for crime.

"Drug dealing and all, I know that some of that does exist in these abandoned homes," said Augusta mayor Deke Copenhaver.

But the solution isn't so simple. Most property owners are nowhere to be found when the city comes after them to maintain their property, leaving you with the financial burden of boarding up and sometimes demolishing abandoned structures.

With a tight budget, city leaders are looking for federal help.

"There are federal funds that could come in and support our cause by taking these buildings down and then charging it to the HUD so we can them make these properties available for low rent housing and approve the location it's in for the neighborhood," Commissioner Grantham explained.

So far, the License and Inspection Department has identified 1500 structures in Augusta needing some major attention. 50 of them have already been demolished.

Gertrude hopes the home near hers will be next, even if it means she has to pay a part to clean up someone else's mess.

In the meantime, the city is also taking another step to tackle this problem. The License and Inspection Department has started buying some of the properties after they have been foreclosed and then selling them. They've already done that with nine properties.

The process to actually demolish the buildings takes some time.

The city has to wait at least a month before they can do anything, just in case they property owners are out there. If they are not, then it all has to go through the court system.

The city does have a vacant lot ordinance about up-keep. The city can give property owners ten days to cut the grass. After that, the city bills the property owner $224 an hour to have an inmate crew maintain the property.

Here's the problem: the License and Inspection director tells News 12 most of the property owners are nowhere to be found, so taxpayers end up footing the bill.