The Daily Mail: Charleston makes effort to repair vacant properties

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The city of Charleston is taking steps to reduce the number of vacant properties in the city, particularly on the West Side.

But fixing the problem isn’t easy, as the Daily Mail’s Tyler Bell reported Monday. City officials can’t just demolish these vacant properties, nor can they enter them without first contacting the owner, who often is hard to find.

Urban blight is a problem across the city, especially the West Side. According to Bell’s report, about 17 percent of structures in Ward 2 are vacant followed by 15 percent in Ward 3, 13 percent in Ward 1 and 12 percent in Ward 4, areas encompassing the West Side and North Charleston.

Rather than simply demolishing vacant buildings, city officials are concentrating efforts on rehabbing many properties. An ordinance passed by city council last year requires owners to register vacant properties and make an effort to repair them on their own.

Before the ordinance passed, property owners could sit on vacant properties indefinitely without making any repairs. The new law makes vacant properties more expensive the longer owners go without occupying them.

“That’s our goal down here, to take this a block at a time, and we hope the community cooperates,” Tony Harmon, the city’s building commissioner, told Bell.

West Side Main Street, working to revitalize the area’s business district, has taken great steps to entice business owners to locate in the area and repair once-vacant storefronts. The West Side, according to Harmon and others, is prime development material.

But declining industry in the valley, the housing market crash and an aging population have created a climate of home depreciation.

Yet, the city is to be applauded for taking steps to diminish urban blight. The West Side has a lot of potential, plus a revitalized business district, two recently completed elementary schools, and easy access to the interstate.

Young families looking to locate to Charleston may be put off by some of the West Side’s current appearance. While the city is taking a good first step in improving the area, more can be done.

Maybe a public-private partnership can help foster a sense of pride in the area while further revitalizing the neighborhood and making it an area where young families feel safe and professionals who work in Charleston can find home ownership affordable.

As the city continues to tackle the issue of urban blight, may the tide finally begin to turn for the West Side.

– See more at: http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20150428/DM04/150429255/1420#sthash.CQXM0qkV.dpuf

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