Tulsa tearing down eyesores with earmarked funds
BY BRIAN BARBER World Staff Writer
Sunday, May 06, 2012
5/06/12 at 7:56 AM
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Shortly after the excavator arrived at the house near 11th Street and Garnett Road last week, the structure was a heap of rubble.
Not that it was much more before that, having been abandoned and neglected since at least September 2007.
The high grass and weeds were attracting mice and other critters, inspection reports indicate. The home was unsecured, and windows were broken. Trash and junk were scattered inside and out. Stagnant water was left in the pool.
The house itself was falling in, rotten and decaying.
After a lengthy process of trying to get the owner to clean up the property, including hearings, inspectors issued a notice to abate for demolition last summer.
But the city's demolition budget is limited - and the structure's number came up just last week.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett wants the city to be able to take care of more of these cases and faster.
"When houses are allowed to go into total disrepair, it really becomes like a cancer," he said. "It spreads. First there's one bad house, and then another and then another."
Dilapidated structures become breeding grounds for drug activity, prostitution and other crimes and are fire hazards, Bartlett said.
"The adjacent residents lose the spirit of home ownership," he said. "It can kill the entire neighborhood."
His administration this fiscal year set aside $500,000 in the budget dedicated to removing dilapidated structures.
It has been such a success that he has proposed allocating the same amount for the upcoming fiscal year. The City Council is in the process of reviewing the budget.
"We have to take our neighborhoods back, not a block at a time, but a house at a time," Bartlett said.
"I believe this money is a strong statement from the city that neighborhoods matter."
Working in Neighborhoods Department Director Dwain Midget said his staff has 423 open demolition cases in various stages of the abatement process. More are added each week.
"It's tough to keep up with considering our limited resources," he said.
But the city's $500,000 investment this fiscal year has certainly had an impact, Midget said.
For the fiscal year to date, 178 structures have been demolished, compared to 48 for all of the previous fiscal year.
The city in the past has used two sources of fluctuating funding for demolitions: grants and its nuisance abatement budget, Midget said.
But the nuisance abatement budget has to cover the cleanup of a variety of code-related issues, from mowing tall grass, to boarding up a vacant home to full demolition.
Now, with the $500,000 investment, the WIN Department has a designated budget strictly for demolition, he said.
"You can't go to a neighborhood meeting where vacant, rundown structures aren't discussed," Midget said, sweeping his hand over the west, north and east parts of Tulsa on a city map.
"These are really our problems areas, where there are a lot of older neighborhoods, but you can find them all over Tulsa if you're looking."
The money goes quickly, he noted. Contractors are hired for about $5,000 per house depending on the size for the demolition work and to clear and fill in the lot.
With a $500,000 city budget, that's just 100 homes, plus whatever can be torn down with other funding sources, Midget said.
"It's a small fraction of what needs to be done," he said.
"But the council and the mayor are not just acknowledging that there's a problem, they are doing something about it by providing this funding."
The city tries to recoup the money from the owner by putting a lien on the property, but it is usually in line behind tax and bank payments owed, and the properties aren't worth much, he said.
Little is recovered for the general fund.
But when the city takes action to demolish a dilapidated house, the results on an area can be profound, Midget said.
The city recently tore down an abandoned home near the North Peoria Church of Christ that had drawn so much criminal and gang activity that people were afraid to park to attend the church, he said.
"They were all so happy when that house was finally gone, because it was affecting all of them," Midget said.
These are neighborhoods on the fringe, he said, and "if the city doesn't step in, they will tip over."
Original Print Headline: Earmarked funds erase eyesores
Brian Barber 918-581-8322
An excavator tears down an abandoned home near 11th Street and Garnett Road after the city unsuccessfully tried to get the owner to rehabilitate the property. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Dusty Hart operates an excavator during the demolition of an abandoned building near 11th Street and Garnett Road. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World