13 INVESTIGATES: 97% of Birmingham demolition liens go unpaid - WVTM-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Birmingham, AL

13 INVESTIGATES: 97% of Birmingham demolition liens go unpaid

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BIRMINGHAM, AL -

Over the years, bringing down the blight has been a priority at Birmingham City Hall.

Back in 2008, then-Mayor Larry Langford pitched a plan to rid the city of 1,500 run-down residences.

"I want all of these houses torn down and we need to set a goal of one year," Langford stated at the time.

Nearly five years later, Birmingham still has about 1,200 homes on its condemnation list.

Don Lupo worked with the Mayor's Office on that 2008 project.

"That was a previous administration and one that I am not certain was realistic at all.  Financially, logistically, all of the 'ly's'.  I really do not think that was very feasible to do," Lupo remembered.

Speaking of finances, Langford predicted it would cost about $4 million to get the job done.

Since then, Birmingham has spent $4.5 million on private property demolition.

However, hundreds of homes have dodged the wrecking ball.

Lupo says there is a ten-step process before the first wall comes down and that includes sending the property owner multiple notices.

"You send somebody a letter and this is where their life savings is and then all of a sudden you get a call from their attorney that says we are going to do this or we're going to do that.  Buys them a little more time.  Jon, it is a very long process and sometimes a tedious process," Lupo pointed out.

Finding the property owners to notify can be tricky too.

We obtained the latest inventory of Birmingham's condemned homes; all 1,212 of them.

To see the list, click here.

We studied that list and found dozens of streets with multiple demolition targets. 

Take 2nd Avenue North for example.

It is the home to a dozen vacant, dilapidated homes, including four in a row in the same block.

To find the owners of those four homes, we visited the Jefferson County Tax Assessor's Office.

Their records showed the first two buildings had not paid property taxes since 2008 and were owned by a company called Hilltop Properties.

We tracked that business to an address on 1St Avenue North.

We were told the company closed up shop years ago.

Records show the final two dilapidated domiciles were recently bought by a non-profit group called Three Hots and a Cot.

The outfit renovates older homes for homeless veterans.

CEO J.D. Simpson told us they recently repainted this fence and are raising the estimated $20,000 it will take to repair each house.

"An empty lot does not provide anything for anybody except an empty lot. We do not need more empty lots in Birmingham, we need to bring life back into the homes we've got here," Simpson argued.

Pat Johnson lives across from the four homes we highlighted.

She says their condition brings down the rest of the neighborhood.

She even took her complaints to city council last year.

"The prostitutes from 1st Avenue use it for a hotel and people use it for drugs," Johnson told the Council.

The mayor's Chief of Staff promised to look into it.

Since then?

"They sent out the environmental people out to look at them.  They corrected all the misspelled addresses and nothing else," Johnson told us.

So back to the bulldozing bottom line.

What is Birmingham doing to make the property owners repay the costs?

Once the home is leveled, a tax lien in the amount of the demolition is placed on the property.

Then if the property is ever sold, the lien must be repaid.

Of that $4.5 million the city has spent on tearing down homes since 2008, it has levied $2.4 million in liens so far.

Of that, about $90,000 has been repaid, which is only around 3%.

However, the city is looking at new ways to battle blight.

"Our demolition people right now are working on a plan to get a group of homes that are in excess of 50% burned and demo them all in one package," Lupo said.

For residents living near blight like Pat Johnson, promises can come and go.

"It's no excuse for any city to allow the kind of blight that we have here in the City of Birmingham," Johnson concluded.

Unfortunately, using tax payers' money to do what should be the owner's responsibility is not quick or cheap.

The Mayor's Office says they are supporting new legislation giving cities like Birmingham more authority to put abandoned homes in a land bank for redevelopment.

Unfortunately, the bill's sponsor, State Senator Linda Coleman did not want to talk about the bill until it passes.

 

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