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Federal funds to take down blighted homes

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City plans to demolish homes

The city's Building Department is planning on demolish these nine houses this year with the help of $150,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds. The houses are from left to right, top row: 1821 LaSalle St., 1715 Center St., 1301 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, middle row: 1218 Superior St., 1114 Irving Place, 902-904 10th St., and bottom row: 910 Hagerer St., 1107 12th St., 211 Riverside Drive.

RACINE — Mary Beechem can’t remember the last time the blighted two-family house at 1218 Superior St. was actively lived in or cared for.

“It’s been empty for years,” she said. “And I have been here for 40 years.”

Boarded up, city Health Department placards hang from the property’s red siding notifying the public that the property can’t be used for “human habitation.”

Roof shingles lie along the home’s driveway, rotted wood that once was the stoop for a side entrance lies in a pile, and there is a chunk of broken concrete wedged into what appears to be a hole in the exposed foundation.

With a long list of code violations and needed repairs, the 125-year-old property is slated to be demolished this year, along with about a dozen or so other properties selected for the bulldozer by Chief Building Inspector Ken Plaski.

New effort

The effort marks the second year in a row that Plaski will be using a combination of property tax and federal Community Development Block Grant dollars to demolish dilapidated properties. Before Plaski’s tenure, demolitions were done only sparingly. The City Council has allocated about $50,000 toward the effort each year, but with demolitions being a costly affair, it was only enough to raze a handful of buildings at a time.

In 2014, with the help of $235,000 in CDBG funds, the Building Department was able to hire contractors to demolish 17 properties. The CDBG funds, which can only be used to raze single- and two-family residences in low- or low-to-moderate income neighborhoods, paid for 15 demolitions.

The city funds were used to demolish a three-family property and a mixed-use building.

This year, Plaski is seeking $150,000 in CDBG funds to tear down about nine homes. He plans to raze another three or four properties using the $50,000 in tax dollars his department gets for demolitions.

Asked why he pushed for the extra funding for the demolitions, Plaski said he saw a need to address the city’s blighted houses and their negative effect on neighborhoods.

“There was no way to actually repair them anymore,” he said.

How he picks

Although the Building Department encourages citizens to report problem properties, most homes that make it on the department’s raze order list get there because city code enforcers have recorded multiple violations at the structures, Plaski said.

“Code enforcement officers give me addresses and then I go and check them out,” he said. “Typically, I condemn vacant properties because I don’t want to take on the task of having to evict someone and relocate them. I go after the really bad vacant properties that have multiple violations.”

In addition to its numerous violations, the two-family property at 1218 Superior was placarded by the Health Department because its water and electric service have been shut off, he said.

A raze order can be issued for properties if the needed repairs to the structures exceed 50 percent of their assessed value. The crumbling stucco two-story at 1301 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive was last assessed at $17,000, Plaski said, but its repairs amount to $38,000.

Seated in a lawn chair in her driveway at the corner of Superior and Hamilton streets on Thursday, Beechem, 63, said she was happy to learn that the battered house around the corner from hers was being demolished.

“It’ll be better,” she said. “People get in it now and you don’t know they’re in it.”

Plaski said he expects to have all the houses on this year’s list demolished by November or Decemeber, with some buildings coming down as early as this summer.

The city’s Community Development Committee recently recommended that Plaski receive the $150,000 in CDBG funds he needs to demolish the properties.

The City Council is expected to rule on the request when it meets Tuesday, July 7.

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