City inspectors find violations of housing code
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on September 18, 2006 1:53 PM
A homemade crack-pipe sits next to a rotting 'Home Sweet Home' sign inside a house on Virginia Street. Shattered windows let the breeze pass through, but still, the stench of mildew and human waste are ever-present as inspectors cite dozens of minimum housing code violations.
Dilapidated dwellings are scattered throughout the city and currently, more than 250 are under the watch of Goldsboro's minimum housing inspector Buddy Pridgen.
Some are abandoned and have been for years, he said, while others are rented out to low-income families. And so every day, Pridgen "goes hunting" for the worst offenders -- to keep the city clean and families safe.
"At first, minimum housing inspections were complaint-based only," he said. "After I got done with all of those I went out looking."
Pridgen has worked for the city for more than a year and has seen "almost everything you can imagine." Violations he has cited range from "small stuff" like broken windows, to more severe problems including structural damage.
"Anytime you've got cracks in the windows or foundation, you're going to have infestation," he said. "That's a violation because it makes the home unhealthy for the occupants."
These problems are common finds in dilapidated dwellings citywide, he said.
"For these types of violations, if the house is occupied, we try to work with the owner," Pridgen said. "But many of these houses have been sitting here like this for years."
And with no owner to make the repairs, the homes that are abandoned begin to deteriorate, he added, and cause other problems, too.
"These places become home for squatters and drug-users," Pridgen said.
Breaks in foundation are commonly seen in abandoned homes, he added. In many cases, a routine inspection turns into a drug and paraphernalia find -- behind the breaks and in the gaps and holes.
"What the drug dealers do is they know the place is abandoned and they hide their stash in these places," Pridgen said. "They'll go out and sell some and come back for a little more."
The floors inside an abandoned house on Slaughter Street have caved in. Old televisions, tables and clothing sit three feet below Pridgen as he inches along the side of the room to find a more stable place to stand.
"There are spots in this floor where if you jump, it would fall in right now," he said. "The floor has basically already fallen through. The sad thing is there are houses like this that people are living in and paying rent to live in all over the city."
Pridgen said there are a "fair amount" of dwellings with significant floor structure damage in Goldsboro. The one on Slaughter Street, like many dilapidated homes he comes across, were simply left to rot and deteriorate.
"Most of the time, when you find a place that's this far gone, it's because it has been (passed) down to people who can't afford the repairs," he said. "They can't even fix their own houses so why put money into ones that were left to them?"
Across town in the Historic District, the worst homes are ones in which people started repairs and "just walked away from the project," Pridgen said.
Rotten wood, mold, mildew and damage caused by squatters are the biggest issues inside -- and the most promising justification for condemnation and demolition by the city, he added.
"When the wood rots, you've got the opportunity for moisture to get inside and that leads to mold," Pridgen said while pointing out violations at another house on Virginia Street. "Right now, mold has become a big issue. Here are some mold issues where the roofs are leaking, and it's getting pretty serious. Surprisingly, the homeless have actually cleaned it up a little bit."
But more often than not, passersby who use dilapidated homes as a shelter, bathroom and drug den are making conditions inside worse and creating potentially dangerous situations -- ones he hopes will be eliminated with demolition orders from City Council members.
"The biggest problem with these homes is they afford vagrants the opportunity to do whatever they want in here," Pridgen said. "People will build fires right in the middle of the house. You don't want your firefighters to have to walk into a house like this. The biggest problem for me with these homes is especially as the winter comes along, you have potential for fires. Is it really worth risking a firefighter's life to maybe save one of these historic houses? I don't think so."
Still, despite the presence of deteriorating and potentially dangerous homes inside the city limits, neighborhoods are getting cleaned up piece by piece, he added. Progress is being made.
"People have seen that the city is getting serious," Pridgen said. "The word is getting out."
When he became minimum housing inspector last summer, only 10 to 15 percent of those cited made repair efforts, Pridgen added. Now, that percentage is close to 50.
The owners who don't repair, however, will continue to face fines and condemnation. And homes that were once considered warm and lovely will deteriorate a little more each day, he said.
"The longer they sit, the worse they become," Pridgen said. "It's a vicious cycle with no end."
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