Harrisburg residents protest against "nuisance" property owner

With 10 people, only half as many protestors turned out at a second demonstration against “nuisance” Harrisburg property owners today, but they had a far wider audience.

 

Rather than marching through their neighborhood as they did on the Fourth of July, this time they picketed in front of a landlord’s place of work, standing in a patch of grass in the right-of-way along a busy stretch of Wheeler Road for about an hour and a half.

They held up signs to passing cars reading, “Taking back Harrisburg one land lord at a time” and “Concerned citizens of Harrisburg,” and they unfurled a hand-painted banner that said, “Hold Rachel Rabitsch accountable 4 1841 Watkins St.”

“People who live on Watkins Street are fearful, so we’re going to bat for the people on Watkins Street who live around that,” organizer and Crawford Street homeowner Lori Davis said. “We’re here for the fearful ones, and there are a lot of them.”

Most drivers passed by with blank stares, though some slowed out of curiosity or honked their horns in support.

Mrs. Rabitsch works as a leasing supervisor at Channell Realty in Wheeler Executive Center. The duplex she owns on Watkins Street – one of three houses targeted in last month’s demonstration against absentee landlords and drug dealing – is managed by she and her husband, Emory Rabitsch.

The Rabitsches have maintained that their tenants are good people who pay their rent on time, and they’re not going to evict them just because “they’re not upper class people.”

“They can picket and protest all they want to,” Mr. Rabitsch said last week.

But according to Richmond County Sheriff’s Office records, deputies have been called to 1841 Watkins at least 41 times since January 2008 over a range of issues including loud music, fights, suspicious persons, wanted persons, family trouble, welfare checks and drugs. During the sheriff’s office’s street-level drug sweeps last month, a man who doesn’t live in the duplex was arrested there for marijuana possession.

“1841 Watkins Street is a nuisance property!” protestor and Harrisburg homeowner Theresa McTier screamed Saturday. “The Rabitsches don’t care about Harrisburg!”

Channell Realty was closed Saturday, but Property Manager Brenda Hardy watched the protest from the parking lot, where she parked her Chevrolet Tahoe and snapped a few pictures.

Ms. Hardy said business owner Cliff Channell was out of town.

“All I know is he called to say he’s behind Rachel 100 percent, and he’ll check into it when he gets back,” Ms. Hardy said. “The 41 calls, anybody could make a call. How many of those calls were actually about those tenants? You can’t just evict a tenant because of what goes on around.”

Helping hold up a banner at Saturday’s demonstration, Harrisburg resident Anthony Jones, who took part in the July 4 protest, said he wasn’t nearly as nervous about being in this one.

“There’s not any drug activity in this place. This is a real respected area,” he said. “All these drugs and things in our neighborhood, I think it leads to a lot of break-ins, and I think that’s what led to my house being broken into last year.”

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