More from the series
Building Blocks from Blight
The Telegraph is investigating blight in Bibb County and its impact on the community. Over the next few months, Telegraph reporter Samantha Max will profile local residents affected by blight in their own communities. If you’d like to be interviewed, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at (478) 744-4306.
Kim French has worked on the same street in Historic Vineville for four decades.
When she first got a job at the Advance Bureau of Collections office on Lamar Street while in high school, every house on the block was occupied. The neighbors all knew each other and spent hours chatting on their front porches. The grass was always cut, trash was thrown away and two women who lived near the the intersection with Vineville Avenue vigilantly monitored traffic, urging drivers to stick to the speed limit.
It really felt like a neighborhood, French said.
But over the years, as homeowners have passed on or moved away, French has watched the once-beautiful historic homes fall apart before her eyes.
‘Lipstick on a pig’
The front of a big, white house across the street has collapsed onto the front lawn, where the trash-littered grass grows so high she can’t even see the sidewalk. A few doors down, a grand blue home was burned black by a fire last year.
At the end of the street, an asbestos-ridden house has literally caved in on itself. The dilapidated roof lies crooked on the grass, and someone’s spray-painted the word “blight” in dark green letters on its fallen facade.
Remote landlords now own most of the homes on the block, several of which went into foreclosure after the Great Recession. New owners have fixed up a few houses and converted them into “rooms to rent” residences. French hopes to motivate the rest of the landlords on the street to follow suit.
Last October, French launched the Lamar Street Revival, a grassroots effort to revitalize a block that’s been neglected for years.
“We’re just trying to make somebody else’s house look good. You know, lipstick on a pig,” she said with a laugh one Saturday after an early morning cleanup.
French has recruited a team of volunteers to mow grass, pick up trash and rake leaves on the weekends. She stays on the right of way, which belongs to the city, unless owners give her permission to work on their property.
“I just could not imagine that anybody would have a problem with me cleaning up the curb,” she said. “You’re not doing it, so why would you have a problem if I help you make your property look better?”
French hopes her cleanup efforts will inspire landlords to do their part. She’s befriended a few property owners on the block, and several have joined her for weekend sprucing sessions.
“Some of the people who are just sitting on, you know, these awful looking properties, once other people take a step and start doing positive things, then maybe they’ll start doing positive things,” French said, “because now they’ll see that their investment is possibly gonna have a return on it.”
Showing they care
When the grass is cut and the sidewalk looks clean, French said, residents and passersby know someone on the street cares. She wants property owners to take the same pride in the little thoroughfare off of Vineville Avenue that she does.
“We just need people to care about what they own,” French said. “And if they don’t, well then, allow somebody to purchase it that has a vision for it.”
French, who lives around the corner on English Avenue, has thought about making her own investment on Lamar Street. There’s a rickety, raspberry-colored house near the end of the block she’d love to restore as a single-family home.
But she knows there’s still plenty of work to be done first.
“It’s all got to start somewhere in every neighborhood and on every street,” French said. “It’s got to start with someone.”
This story is part of a series in The Telegraph investigating blight in Bibb County and its impact on the community. Over the next few months, Telegraph reporter Samantha Max will profile local residents affected by blight in their own communities. If you’d like to be interviewed, you can email her at email@example.com or call her at (478) 744-4306.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member and reports for The Telegraph with support from the News/CoLab at Arizona State University. Follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/smax1996 and on Twitter @samanthaellimax. You can also join her Facebook group. Learn more about Report for America at www.reportforamerica.org.