Karen Hobson: Absentee owners hurting Salisbury

Published 12:10 am Sunday, July 31, 2016

By Karen Hobson

Special to the Salisbury Post

“Salisbury faces facts.” I genuinely hope so. I comment on one area of concern outlined in the Post’s editorial of July 26.

More empty houses. Historic Salisbury Foundation faces this issue daily as we look for properties for our revolving fund program and as we work to revitalize neighborhoods. In Chestnut Hill alone, we are seeing increased vacancy, this despite the successful Blockworks program held there a year ago.

Absentee owners are content to leave their houses vacant. There is nothing more detrimental to a house than several years of vacancy. Heating, electrical and plumbing systems deteriorate and become unusable. Limbs fall on roofs and create leaks. Small holes in the roof, wall or foundation left unattended grow into structural problems. Birds, rodents and varmints of all sorts move in. Housing values plummet — and not just for the house in question. Empty houses bring down property values in the neighborhood and signal a level of neglect that frightens off buyers and renters alike. The neighborhood spirals downward.

It takes decades of work to reverse a situation like this. The foundation, along with many others, spent 20 years revitalizing Brooklyn South Square. It is a terrific neighborhood now. But it did not happen overnight.

Many of Salisbury’s older neighborhoods are declining, particularly Chestnut Hill and the West End. Others like North Main Street and the Ellis Street Graded School District are fragile and in need and in need of attention.

We may not have all the answers, but we do know from years of experience that waiting until the problem becomes more acute is not the answer. We need to work together now to stop further neighborhood decline. In addition to better code enforcement, why not provide incentives to owners to improve their properties, make small neighborhood level infrastructure investments, and strengthen neighborhood associations, among other actions.

I for one hope Salisbury not only faces facts, but works towards solving our most acute problems. We at Historic Salisbury Foundation stand ready to help.

Karen Hobson is executive director of Historic Salisbury Foundation.

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