This story is the first installment in a months-long reporting project on blight in Macon from GPB, The Telegraph of Macon, and Mercer University's Center for Collaborative Journalism. We want to hear about your experiences with blight, and we're holding two town hall meetings this week — Tuesday at 6 p.m. at East Macon Park Community Center, and Thursday at 6 at Centenary Church in the College Hill Corridor. The stories you share with us will form the basis of our reporting in the coming months.
By all accounts, William Wood loved his home in south Macon.
He lived in the small, neatly kept house at 1257 Hartley St. for nearly 60 years, Wood’s family said.
The Macon native and U.S. Navy veteran of World War II never wanted to leave, even as the surrounding neighborhood deteriorated.
But Wood’s grandson Stevie Clements said things got worse when the house next door at 1261 Hartley St. fell empty, recalling his grandfather saying it had been about 10 years since anyone lived there. Click here for a timeline of decay at 1261 Hartley Street.
Clements said the “god-awful” house drew apparent drug use.
“You see people coming and going,” he said. “It’s basically like a crack house.”
And it became a nest for vermin. Rats jumped from tree limbs onto Wood’s roof, leaving trails of droppings, Clements said.
In one incident, Wood ventured near the overgrown property to pick up his newspaper, Wood’s daughter Dale Frazer said.
“Before he could get back in, he was covered with fleas,” she said.
Five or six years ago family members started calling the city’s Economic & Community Development Department, which oversaw code enforcement, Frazer said.
“We just kept calling and asking if they were going to do anything about it,” she said. Clements said the family tried again June 4 and was told the house was on the city’s radar, but no action was imminent. He said ECD staff told them the owner — identified as Sean Tucker — had been found in contempt of court in May and would have until Aug. 15, 2013, to clean up the property.
Actually, city records show Tucker was sent an (undeliverable) letter warning for the fourth time that he could be arrested if he didn’t show up for his next court hearing.
Clements called ECD again in September and was told the case was in the hands of a judge — but it “could take years” to get results, he said.
Wood, 88, died this past Christmas Eve at home. Clements is staying at the house to deter any potential burglars.
And the eyesore next door remains.
Symptom of wider problems
Hartley Street is a microcosm of residential blight throughout Macon-Bibb County. Just two blocks long, it branches off Houston Avenue, with a nursing home parking lot at one end and a small apartment complex at the other. In between are 27 quarter-acre residential lots. Four of those lots are vacant. Of the remaining 23, seven of those houses are empty and dilapidated. That’s 40 percent of the properties, and 30 percent of the houses, blighted or unused.
Charlotte Woody, the ECD’s property inspections manager, said there’s no good estimate of how many houses in Macon are sitting empty. The city would only have records of those that have drawn complaints, but that’s plenty, she said.
“Normally we handle between 5,000 and 6,000 cases a year,” Woody said. Those cases were divided among five residential code inspectors, she said.
At a rough guess, through notices of violation and citations, about 35 to 40 percent of reported problems get fixed by property owners, Woody said. Some of the other 60 to 65 percent aren’t fixed because owners can’t afford the needed repairs, she said.
“It’s not always that folks just ignore it,” Woody said.
People frustrated by enduring blight need to know government officials have to follow a detailed legal process in addressing problem properties, said Wanzina Jackson, ECD director. And she admits that can take a long time.
Woody said the long wait for action on 1261 Hartley St. is not unusual...