Demolition of dilapidated houses to start today

Published 12:01 am Saturday, November 15, 2008

NATCHEZ — Four dilapidated houses in Natchez will begin to be demolished this morning.

Two of the houses — Nos. 14 and 16 Irving Lane — are privately owned and will be the first to feel the wrath of the bulldozer.

The other two houses are state owned — 14 Zoa St. and 727 Martin Luther King Jr. St.

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All have been abandoned.

The four houses are in Alderwoman Joyce Arceneaux-Mathis’ ward and she said its taken six years to get to this point.

“(The houses) have been up and down in the process for a long time,” she said.

And the process was further elongated after an incident involving Jackson Mayor Frank Melton in which he wanted to illegally tear down a house.

“We all wanted to make sure we were following the right procedure,” Mathis said.

So Mathis said she sat down with City Attorney Everett Sanders to start the process all over again.

She said the process involved going through the court, contacting the owners, giving them time to respond and keeping track of all documentation.

And, with the state owned properties, City Inspector Paul Dawes said that has its own separate and lengthy process.

The city had to send a quotation of how much the demolition would cost to the state.

The only way the state will approve a house’s demolition and give the city reimbursement for it is if the real estate is worth the cost of the demolition.

“I got authorization from the state yesterday,” Dawes said.

While Alderman James “Ricky” Gray — who is a big proponent of removing these homes — and Mathis are both happy about seeing the houses demolished, they said the process to get dilapidated homes torn down is too lengthy and cumbersome.

“I think it’s a start, but we’re working with (the Mississippi Municipal League) to lobby to get legislators to get a shorter process and find an easier way to demolish these houses,” Gray said.

Indeed, Mathis said MML is sponsoring a bill to present when the legislative session opens that will alleviate the ways by which municipalities can cut grass and demolish houses.

In the meantime, Mathis said she hopes knocking down these four homes will get the ball rolling in Natchez for future demolitions.

“It’s just been problems with those houses,” she said.

Neighboring residents have had to deal with high grass, snakes and rodents that plague the abandoned homes.

“We’re trying to get this city to be a seamless city,” she said referring to a total eradication of dilapidated homes.

Gray said neighborhood revitalization relies heavily on the removal of these houses.

“We have to get rid of the houses first,” he said.

Dawes said the entire process, from initial clearing to clean up, will take approximately two weeks.

“It doesn’t take long,” he said.

The job has been bid out to a contractor.

“(Public works could), but they prefer not to,” Dawes said. “They’ve got too many other irons in the fire with the routine stuff.”

The inspection department has a line item in its budget for demolition of dilapidated houses.

And the money will eventually find its way back to the budget, Dawes said.

“We recoup that money by placing a lien on the property, so come tax time, either we’ll get the money back or the property will revert to the State of Mississippi,” he said.