West Tuscaloosa residents initial target of blight crackdown
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Kay Reyes said the July 2 letter her mother received from City Hall came as a shock.
The message informed Reyes’ mother, who owns a rental house in Country Club Hills in west Tuscaloosa, that the house needed repairs because the “owner has failed to maintain the property.”
The letter referenced lawn, debris and trash violations across the property. The message said the roof was missing shingles and a porch handrail was not up to code, and that the garage door, windows and cornices needed either paint or repairs.
And the letter said that failing to complete the repairs and cleanup by Oct. 4 could result in fines and possibly jail time.
“I don’t feel like the condition of the house and the property merits a letter that stern or conditions that stern,” Reyes said.
“To tell us that the windows have to be painted — you know, this isn’t (The Gates of) Wellington,” she said, referring to the north Tuscaloosa neighborhood where homes can range between $290,000 and $400,000. “I don’t think you’d expect the houses to be completely pristinely painted, as long as they’re neat and kept up.”
Reyes’ mother is one of 257 property owners across Tuscaloosa who have received similar letters in recent weeks. The letters are the result of a nuisance abatement effort targeting blight, crime and debris and initiated this spring by Mayor Walt Maddox.
On April 24, the mayor signed an executive order forming the Abatement of Blight, Crime and Debris (ABCD) Task Force and charged members of seven city departments — from police and fire to the offices of city attorney, urban development and infrastructure and public services — to tackle these issues citywide.
The initial focus, though, is on west Tuscaloosa.
That’s why, of the 257 properties deemed in need of attention by city officials earlier this year, 228 are in Districts 1 and 2, where U.S. Census data shows that median household incomes can range between $25,000 and $32,000 per year.
Many of these properties were identified as part of the West Tuscaloosa Community Inventory, a $417,825 study that was completed last year and looked at about 10 square miles bordered to the north by the Black Warrior River, the east by Interstate 359 and Lurleen Wallace Boulevard, the south by Interstate 20/59 and the west by Joe Mallisham Parkway.
“The west Tuscaloosa study identified various issues that needed to be addressed within west Tuscaloosa — including blight,” said City Attorney Glenda Webb. “Of course, we want to follow through with the recommendations of the study after we have worked hard and paid for the study.”
While several infrastructure issues, such as lighting and sidewalks, as well as zoning-related updates, are being handled as part of the city’s Frame/Work master planning process that remains ongoing, the mayor chose to address the blight issue through the ABCD Task Force executive order.
“The ultimate goal of the West Tuscaloosa Community Inventory was to be a road map (for) areas we could proactively enhance in west Tuscaloosa,” said Brendan Moore, executive director of the city’s Office of Urban Development. “Departments and divisions now have a coordinated effort to work through those properties and identify others in that process.”
On Friday, Reyes acknowledged that the house could use some attention. The grass needed mowing, she said, and the half-hearted job a contractor did on painting the window trims should be finished.
But threatening her 98-year-old mother with fines and jail for an imperfect home and yard was, she said, a bit too far.
“I just feel like the conditions were a little bit stronger than the actual reality,” Reyes said. “To have to put out unexpected and what kind of seems like overdone demands, Mother will do her best to comply, but we feel like some of those demands should be revisited.
“We just didn’t feel like the description of the house we received in the mail matched reality. It seemed overblown (and) I would really think that they should come out and re-evaluate.”
Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, http://www.tuscaloosanews.com