By John Brice
The Municipal Housing Code Abatement Board of the City of LaFayette held a public meeting on Thursday, February 23rd of 2023 at the Chambers County Farmers Federation Agricultural Center at the ALFA building in LaFayette. In attendance were City Attorney Joseph M. Tucker, newly sworn Code Enforcement Officer Kim Langley, Superintendent George Green of the Street, Sanitation and Cemetery Department as well as a quorum of board members that included Charline Hand, Nell Postell, Twyla Whitlow and Angela Davis.
Previously the week before a public notice had announced the meeting where Officer Langley who will be enforcing codes regarding abandoned houses, derelict vehicles and overgrown yards was introduced and a list of dilapidated houses in the city was reviewed. Attorney Tucker led an invocation and introduced the members of the board by name.
Attorney Tucker began the meeting by stating that the purpose of the proceedings were to determine if in fact these structures could be legally determined to be unsafe, unlivable and in need of demolition.
Officer Langley then took to the podium to address the board and started with what has been designated as house number one located on 1st Street Southeast which has a collapsed roof in the rear and is sliding down in the front.
House number two is located on Alabama Avenue East near Farmers and Merchants Bank, across from the high school and has the right, front portion of the roof completely missing and is collapsed in the center.
House number three is located on 1st Avenue Southwest near the old railroad depot and has extensive fire damage.
House number four is located on 6th Avenue Northwest with the rear portion of the house collapsed, an overgrown yard and its proximity to a nearby park makes it a potential hazard to curious youngsters who might wander onto the property to explore it.
House number five is also located on 6th Avenue Northwest and was described by Langley as being in really bad shape whose owner is deceased, rotted eaves, a roof that is starting to fail, a deck that is collapsing and Superintendent Green has had to cut the grass on several occasions over the years to preserve the public image of the neighborhood.
Reporting on the area known as the “Mill Village”, Langley recounted a situation where on nearly every single house there are roofs that are shot, addicts are trespassing for the purpose of using drugs, mold is pervasive, floors are collapsed, interiors are burned by past fire damage and asbestos material could be present in the shingles. In this area five of the houses are owned by a company in Montgomery, only one house has utility service and there is one house that is occupied without utilities.
Superintendent Green interjected to clarify that due to infrastructure damage to the dwellings that utility service would not be able to be restored to them in their present condition. Langley explained that he is generally reluctant to demolish structures and prefers to preserve them when possible, however, these particular houses are simply too far gone and this unacceptable state of affairs has carried on for far too long.
Attorney Tucker remarked that neighborhoods have done much better and blossomed after crumbling houses have been torn down to which Langley expressed the expectation that these demolitions would send a clear message to neglectful property owners that they need to address the condition of these houses.
Green concurred, explaining that when you take one ramshackle house out a new house comes in which in turn increases utility service usage and revenue for the city with new livable homes being built in their place. Tucker elucidated that it is dangerous to occupy these houses, drug use often clouds the judgment of trespassers who are trying to stay dry by seeking shelter from the elements and lighting fires to keep warm at night.
Green recalled one instance of a squatter using an old kerosene heater and the numerous times drug paraphernalia has been found during past teardowns of houses not meeting code. Langley explained that in the normal course of driving through the city it is easy to miss the sheer volume of these rundown houses, however, if one drives slowly and really observes their surroundings the true scope of the dilemma becomes clear.
Attorney Tucker proposed a motion to deem the houses unsafe and in need of tearing down which was approved in a unanimous vote by the board members. Hand asked when the process would begin to which Langley responded that it would be the following day. Tucker stated that a letter would be drafted with the date of an upcoming public hearing by the city council to enact the demolition.
Langley inquired in regards to how soon the next abatement meeting would be to which Tucker answered that they would most likely meet within 30-60 days to track their progress and explained that it is important not to create a backlog of demolition orders since there is a possibility that a house could be sold if there is too much delay from the issuance of a demolition order until the point at which action is actually taken. Green recalled that out of the 30-40 past tear downs that there were very few issues and all applicable codes were followed.
Hand asked if the city assumes the cost of these demolitions to which Tucker responded that the answer was yes, however, the city does have the option to potentially sell the properties to recoup some of their expenses and at that point the meeting was adjourned.