COT addressing public safety through demolition

By: Mariel Carbone | WCTV Eyewitness News
March 8, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) — Across Tallahassee, garbage and overgrown grass mask forgotten properties.

And, “dangerous building” signs and boarded up windows mark vacant homes.

The buildings can be an eyesore for neighborhoods. But, they can also present a bigger problem. They can attract crime, squatters and violence.

"Whenever an abandoned home is just sitting there, it has the possibility of becoming a haven's rest for all types of scrupulous behavior. And in the past, we have seen that,” said Pastor Rudy Ferguson, a lifelong resident of the Griffin Heights community.

Like in the case of a home on west Brevard Street, where a woman was allegedly abducted and raped last July.

"(Often we see people) either selling drugs, or using drugs. We get a lot related to prostitution. These homes, can be a nuisance,” said Assistant City Manager Cynthia Barber. "It's a significant enough problem that we feel it needs to be addressed."

That’s where the Neighborhood Public Safety Initiative comes into play.

It’s a collaborative effort that stemmed from the Public Safety Collective, which is a joint effort by local law enforcement agencies, community partners and local government to stop crime. Under her role with the city, Barber has helped start both. Ferguson is a member of the NPSI.

The more targeted purpose of the Neighborhood Public Safety Initiative is to prevent crime through neighborhood cleanup efforts, public education, community empowerment and beautification efforts. One part of that includes demolishing those vacant homes.

“Crimes were occurring in and around abandoned homes and properties and overrun properties,” said Barber. “So we thought about it. This would be an easy way for us to engage the neighborhood. It’s the most visible, what we thought was one of the most visible, examples of what we could do to make a difference.”

The NPSI is now working closer with the city’s Growth Management Department, identifying properties that may be crime hazards, right in their own backyard. Code Enforcement then steps in, looks for structural issues and decides how to proceed.

“We don’t ever want to take something without due process and making (property owners) aware and giving them the opportunity to do the corrections themselves,” said Keith Burnsed, Administrator for Land Use & Environmental Resources and Code Enforcement within Growth Management.

The process can be a lengthy one. But, through this effort, the city is working to streamline some of it.

In total, it can include legal notice, a period for voluntary compliance and certified notice. Then, a condemnation review team visits the site and an independent assessment is done to determine if the building can be rehabilitated or if it needs to be demolished. A title search is also done to make sure everyone who has claim to the property is notified.

According to Burnsed, there are roughly 44 potential demo cases on the radar of the City’s Code Enforcement department. At least 16 have already been demolished. And, another 27 are active demo cases. Those cases are in various locations across the city including Frenchtown, Bond, Mabry Manor, Griffin Heights and more.

Each case can cost roughly $5,000 from start to finish. This is paid for through the city’s budget or through CRA funding if it’s in the Frenchtown Southside district. In some cases the property owner may contribute to costs.

Once the homes are demolished Barber also said they’re trying to give incentives to help build new housing or structures to revitalize and strengthen the neighborhoods.

"We can sit around the table, find out what can be done, maybe with the owner of the property. Maybe we can find something to put there that's a positive,” said Ferguson.

While applauding these efforts, some neighborhood leaders said it won’t be a success unless the residents themselves take on continued responsibilities.

"This is the only way we are going to be successful and able to enjoy our community. We as residents have to take pride on what we have, such that we would be willing to do our job as residents,” said Allie Grant, President of the Griffin Heights Neighborhood Association.

That may start with simply speaking up.

“Where there’s a property not being taken care of, go and ahead and let us know. We’ll take a look at it. We’ll find out if there’s an owner to be addressed there. We’ll find out if it’s a home that qualifies for demolition and we can move to do that,” said Barber.

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