Stephanie Moss won’t let her children walk down their street.
She stopped inviting people over or telling folks where she lived — all because of an abandoned house nearby with piles of furniture dumped on the front lawn.
“Why do we have to look at that crap every day? This whole blight situation with the city, it’s just getting out of control,” Moss said during a recent lunch break from work.
With only an hour off during business hours, there’s not a lot of time for calls to Macon-Bibb County.
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She and other neighbors who live near 4525 Elkan Ave. have been trying to get the house boarded up since 2013.
After getting bounced around to different people to call, Moss gave up trying to get something done.
In January, a judge’s letter was posted on the front door, declaring the building uninhabitable.
But nothing has been done since then, she said, except that more junk has piled up in the yard in her residential neighborhood off Rocky Creek Road.
She believes the south Macon neighborhood is neglected because it’s a majority black, lower income community.
“It’s just not safe at all, for the neighborhood, for the kids, myself, anything,” she said. “It’s not fair to us as homeowners.”
Nine miles across town from Moss’ neighborhood, the North Highlands Neighborhood Association near Baconsfield has been battling to remove a vacant house where a large tree fell through the roof in May.
Every time Rich Bates pulls out of the driveway of his stately brick home designed by renowned architect Neel Reid, he sees the boarded yellow cottage across the street.
“We’ve seen cats and raccoons come out of the house,” Bates said recently.
Since June, the association has been calling the Macon-Bibb County Code Enforcement office and inching ever so slowly toward getting action.
North Highlands neighbor Donna Ashmore put it this way in an update she emailed to Bates: “To coin the phrase ‘the wheels of justice turn slowly’ is an understatement when you’re dealing with the city.”
Nearly a dozen neighbors, dressed in matching T-shirts, showed up in court Sept. 15.
The week before court, contractors for the owner boarded up the cottage and left a blue tarp on the roof, Bates said.
They are headed back to court Thursday, hoping to get a demolition order from the judge.
DOING THE RIGHT THING
Macon-Bibb “blight czar” Cass Hatcher said the neighbors are doing the right thing in staying in touch with the code enforcement office to keep a record of their complaints and efforts.
Hatcher, director of facilities for River Edge Behavioral Health, said when he first came to town in 2002, there was an expression describing rental opportunities: “Makin’ bacon in Macon.”
Out-of-town landlords were buying up properties as investments.
“You get a couple of bad tenants in and your appetite for being a landlord goes away. In some cases, they stop paying taxes,” Hatcher said.
In other instances, houses are inherited by people without money for the necessary repairs or upkeep.
Bates has traced the owner of the house at 784 North Ave. to Ghana.
Other rental properties on the street also are in disarray.
“They’re cash cows. You buy something for next to nothing, then the government subsidizes the rent,” he said. “It was worse when the people lived there because there were like 20 people and lots of kids. They weren’t all one family.”
Due to major storm damage to an upstairs addition in the house across the street from him, it’s unclear whether it will be repaired.
North Highlands neighbors are cutting the grass at that house and other abandoned properties.
Bates and others are even willing to buy the property to remove the eyesore.
“I’m hoping the light bulb will go on and they’ll say, ‘We’ll take whatever we can get,’ ” Bates said.
Hatcher said only 16 of Macon-Bibb’s 1,200 unsafe structures are in process for demolition, with four of them undergoing asbestos abatement.
Foreclosures can take the better part of a year to get a clear title, he said.
Demolition brings its own set of problems.
“Then you have a vacant lot that can be as bad as an abandoned house,” Hatcher said.
Macon’s Tracy Coyle sees an overgrown field every time she takes a church friend home to the Pleasant Hill neighborhood near the Macon Charter Academy property.
For six months, Coyle has been calling the county’s “See, click, fix” line about illegal dumping on vacant lots on Hudson Street and Wise Avenue, near her friend’s home.
The property was cleared twice, but more trash piles up.
“All kinds of stuff is dumped overnight. We’re not getting anywhere,” Coyle said. “Why should somebody who doesn’t have a lot and struggles to provide for her family have to put up with this?”
Macon-Bibb has earmarked $14 million for blight initiatives.
Each County Commission district identified projects in urban redevelopment areas, which excludes north Macon.
Near Coyle’s friend’s house, about $2 million will be used to tear down houses on Wise Avenue and build a park in side streets off Riverside Drive, just north of College Street, Hatcher said.
Another $2 million is going to light up Beall’s Hill and make it more pedestrian friendly.
Moss and Bates wish some of that money could have dealt with the dilapidated houses they see daily.
“Sidewalks and street lights? You’re kidding me. And I’m dealing with this?” Bates said, looking across from his 103-year-old house, his escape from the cramped spaces of metro Atlanta, where he works.
Macon is rich with interesting bungalows and other nice homes that would attract other commuters and telecommuters if neighborhood standards were better enforced, he said.
“It’s a shame because people can work from their homes.”