City clears blight backlog

2018-10-28 | High Point Enterprise

Oct. 28--HIGH POINT -- The numbers are starting to tell the story.

When the City Council vowed to make cleanup of neighborhood blight a priority in March 2016, inspectors faced a backlog of 270 active minimum housing cases in High Point. Since then, it's dropped to one, and officials said it's about to come off the books.

"They've got an active building permit and they're doing some work on it. It's not cleared yet, but, in essence, we've got really a zero backlog," said Assistant City Manager Randy Hemann. "That means everything that has been called into us has been addressed in one way or another, as far as minimum housing cases, where somebody might be in a rental house and they call and they say, 'My plumbing doesn't work, and the owner of the house won't fix it.'"

While the city still has hundreds of active housing, public nuisance and zoning violation cases on its books, officials said the fact that the backlog has been virtually eliminated shows that the extra money and manpower the council put into enforcement is making a difference.

"It's a council priority now. They made it a priority and they funded it, and it's making a change in the neighborhoods," Hemann said.

The goal the council set nearly three years ago was 100 percent proactive code enforcement, rather than having a complaint-driven system.

City leaders say this is being achieved, with inspectors actively seeking violations, the council doing its part by ordering blighted properties repaired or demolished, and the public becoming more vigilant and confident in the city's response.

City Councilman Chris Williams said he believes the progress on this front is just as significant for the city as other major projects like the downtown stadium.

"I think overall, big picture, I'm really proud of the work we've been able to do the last three years," he said. "We have our transformative stuff going on in the core, but I think this part is just as transformative, at least in the hearts and minds of our citizens when it comes to knowing that their neighborhood can and will be cleaned up. The only thing they've got to do is play their part."

Williams represents Ward 2, which includes some of the city's highest concentrations of blight.

While some neighborhoods in the ward in past years had seemingly lost hope that the city would do anything about overgrown yards, junked cars and dilapidated houses, this has now changed, he said.

"It's really simple: They make the call and, within 48 hours, the (violation) sign is up. If action's not taken in x amount of days, we take action," Williams said. "You have visible, tangible proof we are making progress. You don't have the triple-digit backlog anymore. I don't get the negative calls about how it's taken so long to get action on an issue. I think it's a great start, as we continue to redevelop the core and get people more involved and kind of breaking out of the funk or mindset that you can't get anything done if you call City Hall. That's changing."

The message also is being heeded by property owners as the council has gotten more aggressive ordering demolitions on houses that don't get fixed.

"I think demolition has its benefits, because absentee landlords and such get that we're serious," Williams said. "I've also seen places get repaired and the 'For Sale' signs go right in the yard not too long afterwards. I'd rather see that instead of just having them sit in disrepair."

The council in 2016 made housing code enforcement a priority, but inspectors have stepped up their focus on other forms of blight, including used auto sales and repair businesses that violate zoning and public nuisance ordinances with tires and other vehicle parts improperly screened or stored on the property.

"I think we've gotten equally aggressive with commercial blight," Hemann said. "We tore down one commercial building on Green. We've got another one out English we're looking at. We've got one on Washington we're looking at. So we're getting a little more aggressive with those, too, especially where they're falling down and they truly are a public nuisance."

Then there is a new ordinance that will allow the city to begin towing abandoned and junked motor vehicles from private property.

Williams said removing blight is only one part of the city's cleanup strategy. It's equally important, he stresses, to redevelop blighted areas and, to that end, the city has several affordable housing initiatives ongoing.

"I always remind people, blight remediation is such a broad spectrum of things," he said.

pkimbrough@hpenews.com -- 336-888-3531

BLIGHT BY THE NUMBERS

As if June 2018, the city had 608 active minimum housing, public nuisance and zoning violation cases.

--Active minimum housing cases: 277

--Minimum housing complaints for the month: 34

--Active public nuisance cases: 208

--Public nuisance complaints for the month: 180

--City-abated nuisance cases: 80

--Owner-abated nuisance cases: 176

--Zoning complaints (vehicles, signs and banners) for the month: 25

--Active zoning cases: 130

--Signs collected: 87

From July 2017 to June 2018, inspectors brought 48 housing cases to City Council for demolition, and 24 of the houses have been torn down by the city.

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