Plan would revamp blighted inner city

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Now it's Betty Beard who's looking for a sixth vote.

On Tuesday, the Augusta Commission will consider her proposal to raise $7 million through bonds, bank loans or both to crank up revitalization in Laney-Walker and Bethlehem, neighborhoods she likened during Monday's Finance committee meeting to a Third World country.

Getting approval will be a long shot, considering that the five white commissioners contend the inner-city projects can't go forward without a plan to fund the downtown trade, exhibit and event center.

She'll also have to explain why, absent the 2007 deal to fund the TEE center and neighborhood redevelopment through a $1-a-night hotel fee, the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods deserve special treatment.

Augusta License and Inspection Department officials say that from a code enforcement standpoint, Bethlehem represents the worst of the worst, with streets full of vacant, crumbling eyesores that become drug dens and crash pads after dark.

Whereas other distressed neighborhoods such as Turpin Hill, Harrisburg and Sand Hills have similar troubles, those places still have fair numbers of homeowners keeping up properties and organized efforts to turn things around, Code Enforcement Manager Pam Costabile said.

Bethlehem, however, has far less support, with many sections all but abandoned.

A 2008 windshield survey commissioned by the city's Housing and Community Development Department found more than 70 percent of the neighborhood's 873 buildings in poor, deteriorated or dilapidated condition. In the past decade, Bethlehem and Turpin Hill have had the most city-instigated demolitions, with 102 each. The city has put more money into Bethlehem's demolitions than any other neighborhood, spending nearly $400,000 since 1998.

On Wednesday, Ms. Costabile and License and Inspection Director Rob Sherman walked through an abandoned brick house on Bethlehem's Forest Street, which they're trying to get demolished. The house's windows were stripped out, and its inside looked like a big rat's nest. The floor was totally covered by ceiling and sheetrock chunks, strewn clothing, phone books and ripped-up furniture. Just inside the front door, feces was smeared on a wall near a broken vase being used as a toilet.

"It's a place to get out of the weather," Mr. Sherman said. "It's better than living on the street."

"It's a place to do drugs," Ms. Costabile said.

MS. BEARD grew up in Bethlehem during better times, when her family never locked its doors, before the community fell to drugs and decay. Last week, news reports about tenants living in her childhood home on Boyd Lane accused her of being a "slumlord," but a tour of the area revealed her house to be one of hundreds like it.

"I don't think you'll find anything worse," Ms. Beard said of the neighborhood. "I mean, it's terrible. It doesn't get any worse than that."

But for that reason Commissioner Don Grantham, who has been at odds with Ms. Beard on the TEE center issue, questions whether the money shouldn't be spread around.

Laney-Walker already has the Augusta Neighborhood Improvement Corp. making strides toward revitalization. While $7 million could only make a dent in Bethlehem, Mr. Grantham said, it might bring about a near-resurgence in Harrisburg, East Augusta or parts of south Augusta.

Mr. Grantham conceded that he went along earlier because he needed a sixth vote from Ms. Beard to get the TEE center's site and operating agreement approved. At first, he said, the plan was to fund inner-city revitalization in general, but Ms. Beard later specified Laney-Walker and Bethlehem.

"I didn't mind seeing it done over a period of time, but it didn't need an immediate thrust, because there are other parts of Augusta that also need attention," he said. "Do we just pay attention to one area and one area only? I don't think so."

Asked why she picked those neighborhoods, Ms. Beard didn't parse words.

"Because I lived in the area. I didn't live in Turpin Hill," she said. "I know the area. I was in and out of the area all the time. All my life, I have thought something should be done."

She has strategic reasons, too. Laney-Walker, which is mostly in her district, connects to the downtown business district to the north, then to the south gives way to Bethlehem past Wrightsboro Road. Turpin Hill, the next neighborhood to the south, is as bad as Bethlehem in terms of eyesores, and Ms. Beard says it should be tackled next.

THE WINDSHIELD survey by Asset Property Disposition showed properties in Laney-Walker to be in better shape than in Bethlehem. Sixty percent of the 1,284 buildings surveyed there were in good to fair condition, according to the report.

Chester Wheeler, the director of the city's Housing and Community Development Department, said ANIC has played a big role in revitalizing property in the area. The nonprofit development group was created in 1999 to use $30 million in state funding to revitalize the neighborhoods between Seventh and 12th streets, bordered by Laney-Walker Boulevard and Walton Way.

In 2000 and 2001, through state funds disbursements credited to former state Senate Majority Leader Charles Walker, the group received two of what was to be three $10 million installments to rehabilitate 143 homes and build nearly 300 housing units. The last $10 million was never allocated.

"They (ANIC) played a major part in it," Mr. Wheeler said. "It's evident that the majority of the redevelopment in the Laney-Walker area was attributable to the efforts of ANIC and that is predominantly why the number of improved housing is much greater in Laney-Walker than it is in Bethlehem."

He said other areas -- such as Turpin Hill and Sand Hills, which abuts Summerville -- are also in dire need of revitalization, but he couldn't provide a number of the dilapidated properties in those areas because surveys haven't been done.

City Administrator Fred Russell said that, if approved, the Laney-Walker/Bethlehem revitalization funds would be used to buy up swaths of property, make infrastructure improvements and provide low-interest loans to developers and financial assistance to home buyers.

"This community is not going to get better until we improve the housing," Ms. Costabile said. "And we're not going to get rid of the drugs until we get rid of the vacant homes."

WITH ITS proliferation of abandoned homes, Bethlehem attracts a class of people who make living there miserable for everyone else, says Ronnie Glover, 55, who rents a blue-painted bungalow on Anderson Avenue near Macuch Steel Products.

He said he agrees with Ms. Beard's Third World statement.

"This reminds me of Jamaica, the slum part of Jamaica," he said of his street, a row of similarly bright-painted houses all owned by the same landlord. "Being frank about it, all the stowaways come up in this neighborhood, all the people that don't have nowhere to go. They're up here all day, all night long, drinking and drugging, dropping trash."

Mr. Glover said he's an Army Special Forces veteran suffering from hepatitis C. He can't work, his wife can't work because she has to take care of him, and they pay $225 per month in rent.

Mr. Sherman said he could probably find a list of violations in the house Mr. Glover rents, but he's not going to try. That would force the owner to make improvements that would drive up rent and possibly drive out Mr. Glover.

"At this point in my life, I don't have nowhere to go," Mr. Glover said. "My landlord, he does the best he can."

Staff Writer Mike Wynn contributed to this article.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.

EYE ON EYESORES

For the past two years, the city's License and Inspection Department has been tracking properties for which it requested title searches, the first step in the demolition process. Not all of these houses get razed, though, because sometimes owners step up and make corrections. Code Enforcement Manager Pam Costabile said about 90 percent were slated for demolition, and others were in such serious disrepair that the department was trying to track down the owner.

TITLE SEARCH REQUESTS

Area -- Total

Turpin Hill -- 49

Bethlehem -- 47

Laney-Walker -- 30

Hyde Park -- 29

Harrisburg -- 26

Sand Hills -- 11

East Augusta -- 9

CITY DEMOLITIONS since 1998:

Area Demolitions Total cost
Bethlehem 102 $394,151
Turpin Hill 102 $376,324.80
Laney-Walker 66 $267,591.50
Hyde Park 28 $109,398
East Augusta 19 $87,730
Sand Hills 16 $71,513
Harrisburg 11 $54,410
All other areas 112 $522,231.50

NOTE: Demolitions usually cost the city between $4,000 and $5,000, according to License and Inspection Director Rob Sherman

Source: Augusta License and Inspection Department

POOREST OF THE POOR

Average household incomes in Laney-Walker and Bethlehem are well below the city average.

Bethlehem -- $19,902

Laney-Walker -- $24,861

Augusta -- $45,446

NOTE: Figures are approximate because they're derived from data based on census blocks, which don't always align with neighborhood boundaries.

Source: Market analysis service DemographicsNow, whose estimates are derived from census trends, births, deaths, building permits, Internal Revenue Service statistics and other indicators.

CONDITION OF HOMES

In 2008, the city's Housing and Community Development Department commissioned windshield surveys to gauge the condition of buildings in the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem neighborhoods. No other neighborhoods were surveyed. Of the 873 buildings surveyed in Bethlehem, a quarter are dilapidated, and more than 70 percent are in poor to dilapidated condition. Of the 1,284 buildings surveyed in Laney-Walker, 60 percent are in good to fair condition, and more than a third are poor to dilapidated. The building were placed into six categories:

1. GOOD

BETHLEHEM

8%

73 homes

LANEY-WALKER

44%

566 homes

EXAMPLE: 1472 Wrightsboro Road


------------------------------------------------------------------

2. FAIR

BETHLEHEM

21%

183 homes

LANEY-WALKER

16%

202 homes

EXAMPLE: 1236 12th St.


------------------------------------------------------------------

3. POOR

BETHLEHEM

28%

244 homes

LANEY-WALKER

18%

235 homes

EXAMPLE: 1229 11th St.


------------------------------------------------------------------

4. DETERIORATED

BETHLEHEM

17%

145 homes

LANEY-WALKER

10%

131 homes

EXAMPLE: 1220 Pine St.


------------------------------------------------------------------

5. DILAPIDATED

BETHLEHEM

26%

228 homes

LANEY-WALKER

9%

115 homes

EXAMPLE: 1221 Mauge St.


------------------------------------------------------------------

6. UNDER CONSTRUCTION

BETHLEHEM

0%

0 homes

LANEY-WALKER

3%

35 homes

Comments (38) Add comment
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FedupwithAUG
0
Points
FedupwithAUG 06/13/09 - 01:01 am
0
0
What a croc. Fix them up

What a croc. Fix them up people. instead of buying those lottery tickets buy some paint.

Laguria
0
Points
Laguria 06/13/09 - 04:12 am
0
0
What happened to the original

What happened to the original $50,000,000 that went to this neighborhood?

patriciathomas
42
Points
patriciathomas 06/13/09 - 05:19 am
0
0
pearls before swine.

pearls before swine.

55 F-100
1
Points
55 F-100 06/13/09 - 05:45 am
0
0
Physician heal thy self! As

Physician heal thy self! As long as the folk continue their self-destructive ways (drug abuse/alcohol abuse) the neighborhoods will continue to suffer and decay. If they would change their lives, get off of the government checks, get jobs, become productive, and develop some pride and self esteem, then they can rebuild their own neighborhoods.

JohnQPublic
5
Points
JohnQPublic 06/13/09 - 06:24 am
0
0
Some tenants say they want a

Some tenants say they want a decent place to live, but from my experience as a landlord that is a bunch of baloney. We constantly put money into our rental just to watch folks ruin it. We are sick and tired of it. Carpeting was installed for the latest tenant who moved in 5 months ago and it is ruined already. What is wrong with people? And don't tell me about your other bills. I have bills too. It is tough being a landlord in Augusta. People don't appreciate a nice place to live. What a bunch of slobs.

JohnQPublic
5
Points
JohnQPublic 06/13/09 - 06:25 am
0
0
i say bulldoze these places

i say bulldoze these places and let these folks move on to another city. Now that Betty's slum rental was noticed, she wants to fix things up. Yeah right.

ColCo
912
Points
ColCo 06/13/09 - 06:25 am
0
0
No T Center, no rehab money.

No T Center, no rehab money. Put it in writing and make Betty choke on it.

canyouhearme
0
Points
canyouhearme 06/13/09 - 06:38 am
0
0
No public funds for this

No public funds for this revitalization project and no hotel tax fees to fund it. It is the homeowners responsibility. If they don't want to, then the city needs to declare imminent domain and bulldoze them!

hurlyburly11
0
Points
hurlyburly11 06/13/09 - 06:49 am
0
0
I'm with you

I'm with you sister.....bulldoze

ColCo
912
Points
ColCo 06/13/09 - 06:52 am
0
0
Looks like Obama is against

Looks like Obama is against Betty.

US cities may have to be bulldozed in order to survive
Dozens of US cities may have entire neighbourhoods bulldozed as part of drastic "shrink to survive" proposals being considered by the Obama administration to tackle economic decline.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/financialcrisis/5516536...

shel2u
0
Points
shel2u 06/13/09 - 06:56 am
0
0
What would be so wrong with

What would be so wrong with employing workers that currently receive government checks? If the government is putting out money, the government should at least get a return on its investment. Use these people to clean up trash, help with demolition, repaint, etc. You don't put in your required hours per month, you do not receive your check. It's not rocket science!

getalife
4
Points
getalife 06/13/09 - 06:58 am
0
0
The owners of the properties

The owners of the properties should either fix the houses up or the city should bulldoze them. Why should this cost be left to the taxpayers when these landlords have been collecting rent all these years from these houses. No one helps me keep up my home!!

canyouhearme
0
Points
canyouhearme 06/13/09 - 07:04 am
0
0
2u---Never happen--makes too

2u---Never happen--makes too much sense!

Riverman1
90798
Points
Riverman1 06/13/09 - 07:05 am
0
0
It's all about wealth

It's all about wealth redistribution. Make those on the Hill pay to fix up the poor areas until there is equality.

my.voice
5092
Points
my.voice 06/13/09 - 07:16 am
0
0
How many properties does Ms

How many properties does Ms Beard own?

SoonerorLater
0
Points
SoonerorLater 06/13/09 - 07:21 am
0
0
I agree with the cleaning up

I agree with the cleaning up of the neighborhoods, get rid of the thugs, druggies, and generational welfare recipients. Why should people who maintain their homes properly and pay taxes have their money go to these types of projects, like Riverman said, this amounts to wealth redistribution.

canyouhearme
0
Points
canyouhearme 06/13/09 - 07:41 am
0
0
You want to clean up these

You want to clean up these neighborhoods?????? Simple, drug test every person on govt assistance--you will see the rift raft, druggies and prostitutes disappear like rats from a sinking ship!

disssman
6
Points
disssman 06/13/09 - 07:43 am
0
0
I say if we want to save the

I say if we want to save the city, put our money in additional police. Thats the only to save neighborhoods from the scum that seem to congregate in some areas. Painting a house will not get rid of the drug dealers. And RJH is exactly right. Just remember to continue to vote in the incumbents that keep comming up with these wonderful ideas or support those that do.

luckie
2
Points
luckie 06/13/09 - 07:50 am
0
0
I say bomb the places that

I say bomb the places that are rats nest and tear them down before they multiply and move to the next neighborhood. Start all over. The homeowners can sell or rebuild.

Tots
26205
Points
Tots 06/13/09 - 07:57 am
0
0
Yea sounds like the poor

Yea sounds like the poor people always wonting the working people to give to them.Get a job.We the tax payers should not have to pay to repair their homes.Tear them down.Nothing there would be better than the trash thats there now.Stop giveing to people who are always going to just keep that hand open and waiting for the nexit free hand out.

Little Lamb
48021
Points
Little Lamb 06/13/09 - 08:10 am
0
0
Once the voters speak on

Once the voters speak on Tuesday night, we'll see the chickens come home to roost. There is no difference in giving tax money to these homeowners in Laney-Walker and Bethlehem than in giving tax money to the Augusta Symphony and Paine College. Like Riverman1 said, give money from those who have to those who have a hand out until we are all equal (equally in the gutter, that is).

Tots
26205
Points
Tots 06/13/09 - 09:36 am
0
0
YEP and thats also what our

YEP and thats also what our Appointed one in Washington is doing, I say start weening all the free loaders off these social programs.

Cestlavie
147
Points
Cestlavie 06/13/09 - 09:57 am
0
0
I live in the Turpin Hill

I live in the Turpin Hill area, a neighborhood in which I grew up. My parents have also lived in this neighborhood since 1953. The biggest problem is not the homeowners who live in their own homes; it's the absentee landlords who refuse to maintain their properties. I have constantly had to contact the city to report homes in disrepair or overgrown with weeds. Many of the people who own homes are retired and simply don't want to move. My parents live in between two rundown properties; both of which went down when the owners died and left them to their children, who didn't want to be bothered with the properties and sold them to people who don't even live in Augusta. If you do a title search, there are people who live as far away as Detroit, New York, California, etc. The other problem is that landlords should be more particular about who rents their property. A person recently inquired about the house for rent next to my parents--she was loud, didn't seem to have a car, and said she had two teenage sons. My parents took one look at her and said they hope the landlord doesn't rent her the house because she is going to be trouble.

Cestlavie
147
Points
Cestlavie 06/13/09 - 10:17 am
0
0
That is the biggest problem.

That is the biggest problem. People should charge higher rent to those who are healthy and can earn a living, so that they can feel some sort of ownership, and that will keep out the riff-raff. Most of the elderly people such as the gentleman in the article keep up their properties very well. There is a house across the street from mine whose first owner died many years ago. For a little while, it was rented out; but after the last tenants moved out, the owner boarded the doors and windows and hasn't done anything to it since. Weeds are overgrown, the roof is beginning to cave in, and it is causing the value of my home to diminish. As for Betty Beard, she talks out of both sides of her mouth. She doesn't really care about these neighborhoods--she used to own a liquor store in Turpin Hill and when the neighborhood association tried to get her to refuse to grant a liquor license to the person she was trying to sell it to, she pushed the issue through.
http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/032206/met_6850173.shtml
She thinks our neighborhood forgot about that; we haven't. She needs to go and they don't need to spend any more of my tax money. I will be voting against SPLOST!

BE-4-REAL
0
Points
BE-4-REAL 06/13/09 - 10:26 am
0
0
Why was ms.Beard not fined

Why was ms.Beard not fined for the condition of her property?
Anyone else would be,If your name is on the deed then it is your responsibility to keep it up,not anyone else. Why should I have to pay the upkeep on my home and the ones that won't too.If they want to clean it up then I'm all for it but bulldoze the whole place and pant grass for a new park.Then at least maybe the city can cut that ( "not" ) stop wasting all this tax money on personal projects and not the people of the whole city. As far as Ms. Beard she wants to give property to the collage so the city won't take it and she does not have to do as she should and take resposibility for the condition of what belongs to her.

Tots
26205
Points
Tots 06/13/09 - 10:38 am
0
0
Dont just talk about it get

Dont just talk about it get out and vote NO...to the waste

Taylor B
5
Points
Taylor B 06/13/09 - 11:27 am
0
0
This is not the government's

This is not the government's job. Hold the homeowner responsible. These people need to fix the property or sell it to someone that will. Most of the poor do not pay taxes, which is fine, except they use more tax dollars than the responsible citizens. Where are the churches and private charities at? I think they would be more equipped to handle these situations than our inept government

bailmeout2
0
Points
bailmeout2 06/13/09 - 12:32 pm
0
0
these people wont appreciate

these people wont appreciate anything you fix for them, I agree with having basic standards and the landlord should be responsible, but beyond that its the renters responsibility to keep it up. Read ALL the posts about a section 8 tenant who ruined a good house.....http://www.fatwallet.com/forums/finance/924724/

Asitisinaug
3
Points
Asitisinaug 06/13/09 - 01:03 pm
0
0
Enforce the laws and if the

Enforce the laws and if the owners fail to comply, confiscate the property and turn it into greenspace. I am all for using tax payers money to improve taxpayers land and thefore if we are going to own the area and rid it of all of these houses, cars, drugs, etc. so be it. But, if we are going to fix other peoples properties, etc. that is not the job of government but the job of individuals or mabyee charities. Why fix up what they will destroy again very quickly. Instead, use a couple of million to hire new police officers and rid that area and all areas as much of possible of crime and the do nothings that fail to contribute to society and the neighborhood will have a chance to clean itself up. Betty Beard is part of the problem certainly not any part of a solution - she should be fined and/or jailed for the condition her property is in and for asking us as taxpayers to come in and improve her property values, etc. This is absolutely pathetic politics. Give a child something and their is no appreciation but have the child earn what they want and it will be much better taken care of - same goes for here.

wcr250
71
Points
wcr250 06/13/09 - 01:41 pm
0
0
They made the mess, let them

They made the mess, let them clean it up. No more tax payer money .

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