City has few options to deal with neglected homes

Northeast Central Durham contains a mix of housing: newer homes, historic homes, apartments and neglected homes. For homeowners or renters, living next to a neglected, vacant house causes challenges and the city is limited in what it can do to change this.

Rick Hester, Assistant Director/Housing Code Administrator for Durham County says that neglected housing affects the value of the area.

A boarded up house sits on an abandoned lot while the grass grows and grows. (Photo by Antwone Price).

A boarded up house sits on an abandoned lot while the grass grows and grows. (Photo by Antwone Price).

“Boarded homes and neglected homes definitely affect housing values in neighborhoods in a negative way.”

However, the city of Durham is working hard to address the stock of neglected homes in the area.

“We have a boarded house list that began with over 500 properties in March of 2011. We are now down to just over 200,” said Hester. “We also take owners to Housing Appeals Board to get ordinances to demolish or stabilize boarded up or neglected properties.”

The Proactive Rental Inspection Program is another effort to make neighborhoods better and safer.

“This program is allowing us to go door to door and inspect every rental property in certain areas of the city where crime and housing code violations are the greatest,” said Hester.

Hester points out though, that the city is also limited in what it can do to address the issue. The city cannot renovate any properties, for example.

“If we have a lien on the property from remediation done by the city, we can foreclose on the property and have it sold to the highest bidder.”

There are no programs in the city for residents to rely on for financial help to renovate. Nonetheless, Neighborhood Improvement Services offers some non-monetary assistance for low income home owners.

Hester advises people to call NIS if they want to complain about housing issues or report a neglected house in their area. They can be reached at 919-560-1647. Residents can also call Durham One Call at 919-560-1200 to complain about housing issues.

For code violations, owners will be responsible for all costs associated with repairing the property.  Tenants should not attempt to make the repairs unless they have a signed agreement with the owner.

The Durham IMPACT team does work actively in NECD and other parts of Durham to clean up the city by removing litter, graffiti, abandoned shopping carts, and offering other community services.

Daryl Hedgspeth, Impact Team Manager, advises people to stay away from neglected houses for safety reasons.

“There are many reasons you shouldn’t go inside a neglected home. One reason is someone might be living there and they might be on drugs. Second reason the house is might be used for a hang out spot for gang members.  Third reason, it might be a house where prostitutes live, and last reason the house might not be up with code. You can walk in and step through the steps or through the floor,” said Hedgspeth.