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 email@example.com or call her at (478) 744-4306.
Joann Reeves used to love sitting in the front yard of her home on Hortman Avenue, soaking in the sun and admiring her quiet enclave just off the main thoroughfare in Unionville. These days, she hardly ever spends time outside.
The neighborhood isn’t as safe as it was when Reeves moved there 19 years ago, she said.
Reeves and her neighbors Connie Hike and Ida Mae Flloyd yearn for the days when their children and grandchildren could play in the street without a worry, when everyone on the street used to look out for one another.
Now, Hike always keeps her doors locked. Flloyd rarely sits on her front porch anymore. Reeves wonders who might stumble out of one the seven vacant properties along the small residential road each morning.
The three long-time residents lie awake at night, listening to cars zoom up and down the street and gunshots firing around the corner. They’re ashamed to invite friends over to visit, afraid of what they might think when they drive past a burnt-down house on their way in.
When Flloyd, Hike and Reeves moved into their homes, they loved this neighborhood. It was quiet and peaceful, Hike said. She knew all her neighbors and felt like she could count on them when she needed help.
Over the years, the street has changed. Flloyd, Hike and Reeves are still close, but many of their other neighbors are gone. Their left-behind homes mark the street, with overgrown shrubbery sprouting in every direction and bits of trash buried in tangles of weeds.
Hike has called code enforcement more times than she can count, hoping someone there could help her get the vacant house next door demolished. One county employee worked with her for months, sending certified letters to the homeowner and asking her supervisor time and again to tear the house down, with no luck. She said her hands were tied.
Hike has also called her county commissioner, and has yet to receive a response. It’s frustrating, she said.
“It’s just been an ongoing thing with nothing being done. And it’s just like we are the forgotten people,” she said. “But we pay taxes like everybody else. And they should be concerned about us, too.”
Some people judge Unionville residents based on the appearance of where they live, Reeves said. But she and her neighbors each worked hard to buy their homes, and they don’t want to let go of the investments they poured their life savings into.
Flloyd, who moved to Hortman Avenue 46 years ago, worked at Robins Air Force base for four decades. Hike, who bought her home about 50 years ago, retired from Robins, too. Reeves still works as a seamstress, and she wants people to know that “very decent people” live on her street. Reeves keeps her lawn neatly groomed, lined with fresh flowers in the spring. She wishes others wouldn’t judge her based on the decaying state of the vacant houses that surround her.
“They think that we are all — what do you call it? — ‘hood rats,’ but we are not,” Hike said. “We are respectable people, and it seems like we don’t get, really, the recognition that we deserve.”
Flloyd, Hike and Reeves aren’t giving up on Hortman Avenue. They want to make a difference, to tear down the empty houses and clean up the empty lots. As they sat beside one another in Flloyd’s dimly lit living room, Hike’s one-year-old grandson cooing and fidgeting in her lap, the three shared their hopes for the future of the street they’ve called home for so many years.
“You buy your house in order to grow old and stay in it and enjoy your house without a whole lot of mess going on,” Hike said. “Who wants to move every five years?” Reeves added.
Flloyd leaned back in her chair and laughed.
“I don’t,” she said.
Reeves hopes change is on the way in her neighborhood.
“We deserve that,” she said. “Like Ms. Connie said, we are also taxpayers and we deserve the same treatment as anyone else.”
This story is part of a series in The Telegraph investigating blight in Bibb County and its impact on the community.
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.