Louisville Metro Councilwoman Attica Scott’s push to demolish the worst vacant and abandoned properties in District 1 has ignited a debate between residents and neighborhood leaders on how to tackle the problem.
The “Bringing Down the House” initiative is part of Metro Government’s overall effort to raze houses officials argued cannot be rehabilitated.
In January, Scott appropriated $25,000 in discretionary funds to pay for just over half a dozen demolitions mostly in the Parkland neighborhood.
Just this week, Scott’s office announced one of those targeted properties located a 3020 Hale Avenue was torn down by city crews. It is the second house to be razed on that block in recent months, and another on Virginia Avenue was demolished last year.
In the announcement, Scott said this is an intentional attempt to clean up a scourge of empty structures. But neighborhood activists such as Chickasaw Federation President Donovan Taylor say tearing down those properties is not the answer, adding more should be done to refurbish those homes.
“There’s a blight that comes with vacancy in the form of overgrown grass, liter and blight. And demolishing the homes does not eliminate that primary primary. You’re killing the fabric of the neighborhood when you may have a block that once had 20 homes that now only have 10 homes,” he says. “We have on house on Cecil and Greenwood that during the summer the grass becomes so high that you can barely see the home because it’s between two vacant lots.”
A report compiled by the Metropolitan Housing Coalition showed that the concentration of vacant properties disproportionately affect west Louisville neighborhoods.
The Parkland neighborhood alone has 200 vacant and abandoned properties. Other West End areas such as the Park Hill and California neighborhood see swaths of empty homes, and up to 30 percent vacant.
For neighborhood groups worried that demolition is becoming the councilwoman’s chief tactic the fear is that entire neighborhoods could be lost in a wave of so-called urban renewal. Many residents argue the destruction is similar to “Urban Renewal” of the 1970s, which in many minds decimated parts of west Louisville.
“These properties are generally redeemable. I know they look horrible, but the ones that have come down recently I would argue that there are others that are in worse shape,” says Martina Kunnecke, president of Neighborhood Planning and Preservation. And some of the structures in west Louisville that are coming down, if they were in Clifton, downtown or upcoming areas like NuLu there’s no way they would be coming down. This move to start up the demolition machine is another wave of urban renewal.”
Scott points out that only the seven worst structures are being focused on, however.
“It would be ideal to see families, especially homeless families, living in many of these abandoned or vacant homes, but there are just some properties that are so damaged that the best way to deal with an eyesore is to remove it,” she says.
The city continues to float ideas about how to crack down on property owners and banks, but in the meantime demolition appears to be the quickest and most frequent tool available.
Earlier this year, Scott joined Mayor Greg Fischer to announce demolition of abandoned properties went up by 30 percent in 2012. And despite criticisms that tearing down houses is ripping neighborhoods apart, some residents celebrate efforts to raze properties that have been vacant for a decade or more.
“When you got homes that have been vacant for 10 plus years they need to be gone,” says 55-year-old Parkland resident Kevin Madison. “I could understand a property that’s been abandoned maybe a year or two and giving them a chance to get it together. But when it’s been at least 10 years it’s got to go. It’s ridiculous.”
Fischer’s office has begun to hold monthly meetings with information on how to better track vacant and abandoned properties. But the latest housing report shows Louisville hasn’t adequately addressed vacant and abandoned properties despite investing millions since 2011.
And critics of the demolition effort say the city has not developed a plan on what to do with demolished structures. Asked if he’s worried the city doesn’t have a plan on what to do with demolished properties, Madison says he will be patient for now.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day so I’m sure in due time with the right political push something will take place,” he says. “It’s insulting to me personally, but I take care of my home and my mother’s house. And we have to keep on eye out for crime. So it’s got me on constant alert and vigilant.”