Introducing Building Blocks from Blight
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.
Marjorie Harrison has lived in the same white house with towering columns on South Northwoods Drive in North Macon since 1965. Her husband spotted the home while driving through the neighborhood after work one day, and he knew right away Harrison would love it.
“‘I found you a house,’” Harrison remembered him saying.
“‘I don’t think we can afford it,’” she said her husband told her, “‘but it’s got a magnolia tree and a front porch.’”
Harrison loves her front porch. From a white wicker chair by the front steps, the mother of two adult children can look out at her peaceful street and recall the nights when she and her neighbors gathered their children for block parties when the weather was nice. Each household would bring a potluck dish to share as the kids played games in the yard.
“It’s been a wonderful neighborhood,” Harrison said.
Most of the houses on Harrison’s street have manicured lawns and fresh coats of paint. The brick house next door, though, has sat vacant for years, ever since the owners moved into a nursing home. Their son used to check in from time to time. But now he’s in a nursing home, too, Harrison said, and the property’s condition has deteriorated.
A thick layer of pine needles blankets the shingled roof and overgrown shrubbery sprouts several feet high in some spots. Piles of boxes and trash are stacked against the walls of the carport, and tangles of twigs litter the yard.
Harrison recently paid $700 to remove two dead trees she feared might fall on her house. Their rotting corpses lay lifeless in the lawn.
She doesn’t want to bear the responsibility of maintaining her neighbor’s property. Harrison’s been granted permission to tidy as she pleases, but she wishes the county would step up and help out.
Harrison and her daughter have called their commissioner, the tax assessor’s office and multiple county departments, hoping to find someone to clean up the property. No one had the resources, she said.
“‘We don’t have any money.’ That’s all they will tell you,” Harrison said. “‘We don’t have any money.’”
If the county doesn’t enforce and address code violations early on, Harrison said, neighborhoods like hers will gradually deteriorate.
She’s worried about the future of this quiet enclave off Pierce Avenue.
“Blight can be anywhere,” she said. “But this type of thing really pulls a neighborhood down quickly, because people start leaving.”
Harrison said two of her neighbors plan to move to Monroe County, where the taxes are lower. She doesn’t understand why Bibb County’s millage rate and garbage fee have increased, and yet Solid Waste won’t pick up yard debris from the neglected house next door.
Since 2015, the Macon-Bibb County Blight Remediation Program has invested millions of dollars in low-income neighborhoods with high concentrations of blight, which have struggled to acquire county resources in the past. But Harrison thinks the local government needs to alleviate blight in her mostly well-groomed community, before it’s too late.
“I don’t know what the answer to blight is, but if they don’t catch it, nip it in the bud, like doing something with this place, then it escalates,” she said. “And I know that they are trying to do some whole neighborhoods right now, but that is really not the way to do it. To me, you need to start wherever there’s good stuff and there’s one thing that is messed up, correct that before it just escalates.”
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.