Charleston spends $1 million demolishing abandoned homes

Published: Jun. 30, 2021 at 7:18 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - During the past year, the city of Charleston has spent more than $1.1 million tearing down a total of 104 vacant homes, passing the million dollar goal set by Mayor Amy Goodwin.

The city isn’t stopping there, according to Building Commissioner Tony Harmon, with more than 50 more homes currently on the demolition list. He said if they keep this pace with their new “disassembly line” system, the city will be caught up in the next couple of years.

“A lot of times, the homes are smaller homes on small lots,” Harmon said. “Nobody’s interested in buying them. They can’t add a garage, they can’t add an addition, they haven’t been updated in 40 years 50 years. It would take a lot of money to bring them up to standards where a family of four could live in.”

Anyone who is dealing with a problematic house or suspects a vacant home has been broken into should call Charleston Police, Harmon said. Officers and the building department will then get a search warrant to inspect the house. They often find all of the copper stripped out, evidence of drug activity and fires that could bring down a structure.

Harmon said three houses on Glover Street were on the demolition list, but the city was hoping the structures could be saved and repurposed through the Land Reuse Agency. Two of the houses caught fire in recent weeks due to suspected arson, and had to be torn down so they would not collapse.

“That’s a shame, but we are creating lots more houses can be built,” Harmon said about the growing demolition list. “I would like to be able to catch some of these houses that can be saved before people get in them and strip the copper out, burn them down or whatever. Maybe we will be able to make starter homes for young couples coming in.”

Residents on Glover Street said they are still happy the city has worked to get people into a number of other vacant houses and demolish ones that were not livable. Justin Barnhouse said people were giving each other high fives after one house was torn down across the street from his home.

“People were in and out of it all the time until the city finally tore it down,” Barnhouse said. “People go in there and break stuff, leave food, leave waste and it attracts animals.”

Barnhouse said the area has a lot of potential if the few problem houses are removed. He purchased his home a couple of years ago and completely restored it, helping improve the neighborhood while getting an affordable place to live.

“I feel like people should be taking care of their own places, but obviously you can’t get every individual person to be accountable and responsible,” Barnhouse said. “I feel like the city does do a lot, but I do feel like it’s an overwhelming problem for them. It’s not something they can just wipe out.”

The city has around 40 houses that are currently “shovel ready,” Harmon said. Those sites, including one on the 4100 block of Lancaster Avenue, will be demolished as soon as crews are able to get to them.

The Lancaster Avenue house has been abandoned since the owner dies 13 years ago, according to neighbors. Since then, there have been constant break-ins, the yard is overgrown and neighbors constantly called the city for something to be done.

Harmon said this is a good example of the lengthy legal process they often have to complete before a building can be demolished. This house was still in the name of the deceased person, and the city was unable to get in touch with the new owners.

“It’s costing the taxpayers a lot of money,” Harmon said. “We’re boarding these houses up. Nobody wants the grass to grow up over the windows so the city has to pay to have that done.”

“If we wanted to sell our home, nobody wants to live behind an abandoned property especially one that is dilapidated as this,” said Shane Hudnall, who lives next door to the abandoned house. “If they leveled the property and it stays vacant for the rest of my life here, I would be happy with that.”

Hudnall said his family has been very irritated throughout the process, but is thankful something is finally being done to remove the house. He is even willing to cut the grass on the empty lot to improve the look of the area.

“Hopefully, this will help our city, help our property values and bring new tenants and property owners,” Hudnall said.

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