published Sunday, November 18th, 2012

Chattanooga seeks to fight blight of abandoned houses

Cynthia Stanley-Cash, president of the North Brainerd Neighborhood Association, examines a condemned sign in front of a house at 736 Moore St. that has been vacant for years, according to neighbor Clarence Fleming.
Cynthia Stanley-Cash, president of the North Brainerd Neighborhood Association, examines a condemned sign in front of a house at 736 Moore St. that has been vacant for years, according to neighbor Clarence Fleming.
Photo by Dan Henry.

VACANT PROPERTIES SURVEY

The Department of Neighborhood Services and Community Development asks residents to complete an anonymous, five-question survey to report vacant properties in your neighborhood. The survey will be used to determine the number of abandoned and foreclosed properties in the city. Neighborhood Services will collect the information until Dec. 10.

* ONLINE: The Vacant Properties Survey is available online at www.chattanooga.gov.

* EMAIL: Residents may also send an email to report vacant properties to Lauren Lowery at lowery_l@chattanooga.gov.

* MAIL: Send the letter to Lauren A. Lowery, Attn: Vacant Properties, Department of Neighborhood Services & Community Development, 101 E. 11th St., Suite 200, Chattanooga, TN 37402.

* FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call 425-3718

BY THE NUMBERS

Using more than $3 million in federal money, the city managed to address neighborhood blight, accomplishing the following results through its Neighborhood Stabilization Program:

* 21 newly constructed homes

* 13 single-family homes stabilized through renovation

* 54 blighted structures demolished

* 48 newly constructed rental units at Maple Hills

* 14 homebuyers to receive financial assistance

* 2 families living in homes customized to meet their physical challenges

Source: City of Chattanooga

At the city's request in 2008, Cynthia Stanley-Cash and others concerned about stabilizing neighborhoods hard hit by foreclosure reported several blighted or abandoned houses in her North Brainerd neighborhood.

In all, that city inventory identified more than 1,000 foreclosed homes across Chattanooga, many of them abandoned. Chattanooga later received more than $3 million in federal funds to rid areas of blight and used it to raze, renovate or rebuild dozens of homes that had been foreclosed or left empty.

Yet the North Brainerd houses reported by Stanley-Cash and others sit untouched, still abandoned, still an eyesore and still a potential safety hazard, she said.

"The same houses we pointed out in 2008 are still standing today," said Stanley-Cash, standing near the corner of Wilcox Boulevard and Pin Oak Drive in front of a boarded-up house with a large tree lying across the yard.

The federal money ran out last year before the city got to much of Stanley-Cash's neighborhood.

But now the city is positioning itself to fight blight again.

The city's Department of Neighborhood Services and Community Development is taking a new inventory of abandoned homes and asks residents to help by reporting blighted properties. The city also wants residents to participate in a five-question, anonymous survey concerning blight.

The number of foreclosed properties soared here and nationwide as the Great Recession set in. Homes that weren't resold at bargain prices were often left to deteriorate, posing potential health and safety problems and dragging down property values for nearby homeowners.

The pace of foreclosures has slowed lately, but many homes still sit empty. And the city wants to find out how many.

The goal of the city's latest effort to inventory foreclosed or abandoned houses is to get an exact count and to learn what action can be taken against third-party owners of the properties, such as lending institutions, to hold them accountable, Beverly Johnson, the city's Neighborhood Services administrator, said in an email.

Sometimes the city is left holding the bag for foreclosed properties because they don't belong to anybody except the bank and the bank may not be equipped to keep the lawn mowed and the house presentable, said City Councilwoman Sally Robinson.

Speaking not only as a councilwoman but as a real estate broker, she said having multiple foreclosed houses in one neighborhood or subdivision can pull down property values for the remaining homeowners. The answer is to keep as many people in their homes as possible, she said.

The city's 2008 survey found the highest number of foreclosures in the North Brainerd/Woodmore neighborhoods. More than 50 homes were demolished and dozens more were built or renovated by the time the federal money was used up.

The city invested most of its stabilization efforts in City Council District 9, including Bushtown, Orchard Knob, Avondale and East Chattanooga. Of the 37 Neighborhood Services Program projects listed in the executive summary, 26 of the projects, including new construction and rehab, occurred in District 9.

In Bushtown alone, eight new homes were built in the 600 block of North Holly Street, two new homes were built in the 200 block of North Hickory Street and two other homes in the same block were renovated, according to the projects list.

Clarence Fleming, a 65-year-old Vietnam veteran, has little faith that anything will be done with the condemned house facing his home of 26 years. He lives on the corner of Wilsonia and Moore streets and, for at least five years, he has watched the house deteriorate.

Thick, black electrical wires hang above the house's yard where trees have fallen on them and knocked them off the pole. Portions of the roof are covered with blue tarp, and torn blinds can be seen through the window. A sign that says the house is condemned and unfit for human habitation lies on the front porch amidst thick leaves and brush.

"I don't want to cause problems, but this is an eyesore," he said. "I've got to stay here. If I could move, I would have been gone."

about Yolanda Putman...

Yolanda Putman has been a reporter at the Times Free Press for 11 years. She covers housing and previously covered education and crime. Yolanda is a Chattanooga native who has a master’s degree in communication from the University of Tennessee and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Alabama State University. She previously worked at the Lima (Ohio) News. She enjoys running, reading and writing and is the mother of one son, Tyreese. She has also ...

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