PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — About 400 houses that have sat empty for more than a year and are in violation of building codes are now on the City of Parkersburg’s vacant property registry.
Several more that could have been registered were taken down by their owners, at least some in an effort to avoid the registry’s $100-a-month fee.
Between July 2015 and July 2016, 31 structures were torn down by owners, about 21 of which would have qualified for the registry, said Gary Moss, city code director.
“That’s more houses than we usually get torn down by individuals in one year,” said Moss.
And that saves the city the cost of tearing the structures down itself, Mayor Jimmy Colombo said.
“That means we don’t have to use our money,” he said.
The registry was approved by Parkersburg City Council in 2014 as part of a proposed initiative to reduce slum and blight. The rationale was twofold: The monthly fee would help reimburse the city for the cost of maintaining dilapidated properties, and the potential charge might encourage some owners to take action and fix up or raze long-term eyesores.
Two of the houses owners took down themselves were on a list prepared by the code department of structures targeted for demolition using a pair of $250,000 loans from the West Virginia Housing Development Fund. The city has three years to pay back the first loan, but the stated goal is to pay it off by May 6, 2017, before a 3 percent interest rate kicks in for the third year, city Finance Director Eric Jiles said.
Five more houses on the demolition list are expected to be torn down by their owners in the near future.
While Moss said he can’t attribute a specific number of demolitions to the registry, he said it is drawing attention to problem properties.
“We get phone calls quite regularly from people that own these houses that want to know what they can do to get these houses off that list,” he said.
Between five and eight properties on the registry have changed hands, Moss said. Among those were 1000, 1004 and 1010 Virginia Ave., which were purchased by West Virginia Roofing owner Jon Barker and taken off the registry after he submitted plans to demolish them himself. Others are being repaired and can come off the list when they are code-compliant, he said.
Even if a house is vacant, if it’s well-maintained and up to code, it is not required to be on the list.
The registry opened in July 2015, and because of the one-year vacancy requirement, the city only started assessing the fee for it last month. Jiles said about $17,800 has been billed each month for July and August, with only about $2,500 collected so far.
Not all of the houses on the list have been registered and vacant for a year, which is why the amount billed is lower than $100 for each structure on the list. Jiles noted that individuals also have the right to appeal a property’s status, so it could take about six months to get the list properly pared down.
Registration of vacant properties was initially done on the honor system, Moss said, with city officials indicating they wouldn’t be actively seeking violators. Since then, there have been three “inventories” after Moss decided the city needed a more accurate number of the potential problem properties. The owners of houses code officials believed belonged on the registry were sent registration packets.