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City of Danville officials led City Council, media and citizens on a tour Saturday morning of some of the neighborhoods with the highest concentration of blight.
The tour was designed to elevate public awareness and understanding of the problem.
“It is important for the whole community to know the extent of the blight and what we are doing about it,” City Manager Joe King said in a briefing prior to the tour. “If we allow this (blight) to continue at the current rate, it will be very harmful to the city.”
King provided statistics that show 40 percent of the houses in the city are in fair or poor condition.
The 2010 U.S. census found 2,000 houses in the city were vacant and abandoned, but that number is considerably less than what city officials believe to be the actual number.
“The concentration (of blighted houses) is in the center of the city, north and south of the Dan River,” King said. “These houses are abandoned and boarded up.”
Director of Inspections Jerry Rigney talked about the number of hours his staff spends each week to ensure these properties remain boarded up, the entryways are secure and the houses are unoccupied.
“We must continually check them,” Rigney said. “We often find someone has broken in and stayed overnight. We will find a mattress on the floor and candles and food items.”
His staff also spends considerable time in creating and maintaining a paperwork trail relating to inspections of the properties and correspondence with the property owners.
Public Works Director Rick Drazenovich said on the tour that blighted properties present a problem for his department with overgrown lots, accumulation of debris, and the presence of abandoned and inoperable vehicles.
Crime statistics show vacant and abandoned houses are a magnet for burglaries and drug-related activities. Police Chief Philip Broadfoot said not only are these houses stripped of anything salvageable, but also they are used to store stolen goods temporarily. “We go up and down the street of abandoned properties looking for stolen goods,” Broadfoot said.
King said these problems lead to a cycle in which neighborhood decline is perpetuated. The decline is reflected in lower housing demand and property values, homeownership rates going down but renter occupancy rates going up, an increase in property neglect and abandonment, and an increase in rock-bottom rental rates, with a greater proportion of those living in poverty.
King is proposing a war on blight that will include a more aggressive enforcement of existing codes, creation of additional rental inspection districts, addition of new code enforcement tools, an increase in the number of demolitions, and promotion of property investment through activities such as a community clean-up/fix-up/paint-up program.