City eyes code violators
By Matt Caulder
Published in News on August 31, 2013 10:46 PM
There is a crack pipe on a table and a broken mirror scribbled with gang rhetoric reading, "5 poppin', 6 droppin'."
A deflated air mattress covered in insulation ripped from the ceiling is a make-shift bed -- and it isn't the only one.
This house, located at 706 N. Virginia St., is slated for demolition as it nears the end of the city minimum housing process and will be torn down this year.
And there are 294 other houses going down the same road.
This year, 14 houses will be torn down with the $93,000 in funding the Inspections Department received from the Goldsboro City Council, but with 20 to 25 houses being added to the list annually, it can be frustrating, Chief Building Codes Inspector Allen Anderson said.
Others, though, see the number of demolitions slated for 2013 as an improvement.
"Usually we get six or seven so 14 is a really good year," Inspector Ray Fields said.
The minimum housing process is a complaint-driven process that gives property owners a chance to bring their dwellings up to minimum housing standards before they are condemned and demolished by the city government.
But some of the properties currently on the list are, officials say, lost causes.
A tour of the inside of some of the houses up for condemnation shows a different side to the homes most city residents drive by every day.
Inspector Kelly Best, the woman in charge of inspecting those structures that are currently in the minimum housing process, pulls up to one of them and two stray dogs streak out of the front door.
Inside, walls have been torn open for copper wire and nearly every bit of metal has been stripped from the home except the steel bathtub.
"They like things they can carry and that tub is work to get out," Ms. Best said.
As she left the single-story duplex on Virginia Street, she said "I've seen enough of this place, I'm ready to see it gone."
Inside another downtown house, human feces coats the bottom two feet of the walls in more than a dozen places where a vagrant has used them as a bathroom.
The city would love to see the owners fix up the houses and live in them, but for the vast majority of these houses, it just never happens.
"10 percent fix it and do it right. That's just an estimate," Fields said. "It's a very low percentage."
Once a house starts moving through the process, it usually comes off the list only after it is demolished.
After a building is demolished, the property has a levy on it for the cost of the demolition to be paid before ownership changes from the city to a new owner, but that fee is often not recouped.
"You have a property with a $15,000 to $20,000 value, tear it down for a cost of $5,000 to $10,000, and you have a $3,000 lot," City Manager Scott Stevens said. "They often end up sold at a foreclosure sale or private sales and the city never gets those dollars back. We want to recover those dollars but we won't get those dollars back."
On average, it costs $8,000 to demolish one of these houses and if 90 percent of those on the list are condemned, that is a cost of $2.1 million to the city that will never be recouped.
If about $100,000 were to go to demolition every year and no new houses were added to the list, the city would still be demolishing houses in 20 years.
Condemning a house can be done in about 180 days, but there are houses that have been sitting on the condemned list waiting to be torn down for seven to eight years, as the Inspections Department waits on the funding to tear them down, Fields said.
"Some of them are boarded up and secure and the money isn't there," he said.
A house starts moving through the minimum housing process when a complaint is brought to the Inspections Department about the structure or property.
"First there is the initial inspection and first contact letter," Fields said. "After that is Phase One, which is 30 days, and if they still haven't fixed the problems, it goes into Phase Two, which is 90 days. After that, it goes to Phase Three, which is 30 days, and then the last chance letter."
A last chance letter gives a property owner a chance to put up a bond for the amount of the demolition and if they get the repairs made within 180 days, they get their bond back, Fields said.
But if the repairs are not made, the house is demolished -- unless the city decides to be lenient.
"If someone is working on the house and needs a little more time, we can give it to them," Anderson said. "Because that's what we really want to see."