October 23, 2019 - Atlanta - Councilman Antonio Brown visited a blighted apartment complex on Verbena Street in northwest Atlanta and spoke to reporters about plans for a new advisory board to address the blighted properties in his district over the next two years. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Blighted properties in Atlanta focus of new advisory board

Down a mile stretch of Verbena Street sits a burned-out, dilapidated apartment complex in the Dixie Hills community. The property has sat in the northwest Atlanta neighborhood for at least 10 years in an unlivable state.

It is just one of the 476 derelict properties in northwest Atlanta that are now the target of a new blight advisory board that will assess vacant properties and recommend to the Atlanta Solicitor’s Office the best course of action to clean the properties. This could mean rehabilitating the property or demolishing it if necessary.

“When you wake up and you come outside and you see your environments and conditions like this — homes burned down and dilapidated and not livable — it has an impact on you,” Councilman Antonio Brown said. “For me, this is just unacceptable.”

Brown will spearhead the new board, known as the District 3 Blight-Free Advisory Board, which was approved by City Council earlier this week. The advisory board will focus on Brown’s district, which sits in northwest Atlanta, including the Vine City and English Avenue neighborhoods.

District 3 includes 16 neighborhoods in all — 10 of which have blighted properties, he said.

October 23, 2019 - A blighted apartment complex on Verbena Street in northwest Atlanta. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The 13-member advisory board will be primarily comprised of city officials, including representatives from the Atlanta Office of Code Enforcement and the Atlanta Solicitor’s Officeand will be another set of eyes for code enforcement, Brown said.

The board will meet each month until October 2021, when the pilot program ends. It must submit an annual report on the status of the program to City Council. A resident from the district will also sit on the board and be a part of a canvassing team to assess blighted properties.

If necessary, the board will file a petition in municipal court to have blighted properties declared a nuisance.

“So, we could place a lien on it, foreclose on that lien and then take possession of the property without having to do imminent domain,” Brown said. A judge could also rule that the property be torn down.

Many of the homes surrounding the Verbena Street property are either boarded up or abandoned. Sandwiched in between are owner-occupied homes or newer homes.

Michael Jenkins, 60, lives two streets behind the dilapidated apartment complex on Verbena Street and said he would like to see the property renovated into a livable area for residents. “It would be more convenient for people,” he said.

October 23, 2019 - Atlanta - Councilman Antonio Brown outside a blighted apartment complex on Verbena Street in his district. District 3 has 476 derelict properties, he said. Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com
Photo: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Brown said any property seized through the program will be converted to mixed-income affordable housing, which would be a relief to an area where the median income is $35,353 annually and where 22 percent of the residents own their home.

But some changes could take time. Brown some of the property owners stay in different states or countries, making it difficult to work with them to solve blight issues. Some tell the city they aren’t aware of the problems on their property.

But Brown is hopeful the board can navigate those issues. The board will appoint a team of volunteers from code enforcement and the city solicitor’s office to canvas and document the conditions of blighted properties using the code enforcement criteria.

Once the properties are evaluated, the board will send a letter to the owner of the blighted properties informing them they are in violation of code and will provide three remediation options for property, which include a creating rehabilitation plan for the property or finding funding for owners to fix the problems.

Property owners will have 30 days to respond to the letter with a selection of the remediation they will use. If the board can’t get an owner to respond, the board could go to court to have the property declared a nuisance.

The board is set to end in 2021, but Brown said the pilot program could be extended to other Atlanta neighborhoods: At this point, we have to do something to create change in our communities.”

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