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Group building plan to deal with city's deteriorating houses

By Scott Jenkins

Salisbury Post

Run-down houses are not only eyesores, they contribute to crime and safety problems as well, says a group charged with studying ways to improve Salisbury’s appearance.

The Community Appearance Commission identified 88 “deteriorated” houses around the city and asked the City Council on Tuesday to consider measures for preventing more homes from falling into disrepair.

The study on which the request is based grew out of meetings the commission held with members of the Neighborhood Leaders Alliance in 2005 and early this year, commission Chairwoman Barbara Perry said.

“What we heard most was the problem in all neighborhoods, no matter where they were, was deteriorated housing,” Perry told council members. “… It doesn’t matter where you live, the problem is there.”

After a “windshield survey” of 14 neighborhoods, the commission came to a number of conclusions, including that houses are deteriorating by degrees, some are along major gateways such as North Main Street and few local agencies offer assistance for housing rehabilitation.

Many of the houses identified in the study are older and all but 16 are rentals, the study found.

“Not surprisingly, most of the problems we identified are in the areas with lower owner-occupancy rates,” said Greta Connor, chairwoman of the commission’s Education Committee.

As part of the study, the commission worked with the Salisbury Police Department and found a connection between higher incidence of criminal behavior and run-down housing.

The commission also asked other cities and towns about their practices for dealing with such problems. Statesville, for instance, inspects rental homes and issues a certificate of occupancy between tenants.

That measure made it into the commission’s recommendations to council. Among others are that Salisbury maintain an inventory of at-risk houses and develop a system to monitor them; adopt a higher standard for minimum housing; increase enforcement staff; develop investment pools for buying and renovating neglected properties; increase homeownership opportunities; and consider establishing a Housing Commission.

The Appearance Commission is already working on one of its recommendations, a Web site where residents can get answers to specific questions and links to the appropriate agencies to help them.

One potential pitfall of dealing too harshly with deteriorated housing that Connor wanted the council to be aware of is shrinking the housing stock and increasing the homeless population “and we certainly want to avoid that.”

Council members praised the commission and neighborhood leaders for their work and indicated they would take up the matter in early 2007 when they set goals and objectives for the coming year.

“It’s obvious how much time and work has gone into this,” Mayor Susan Kluttz said. “I believe we will be discussing this during our retreat.”

Contact Scott Jenkins at 704-797-4248 or sjenkins@salisburypost.com.

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