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Coleman: Columbus Declares War on Abdanoned Houses

Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman will deliver his seventh State of the City address this evening. In it, the mayor will propose spending $25 million over the next six years to rehabilitate or remove about 1-thousand abandoned houses around the city. Such housing, he says, drags neighborhoods down and serves as a catalyst for crime.

"First of all, I want to welcome everyone to 901 Miller Avenue "

Mayor Coleman spoke briefly on the sidewalk in front of the dilapidated, fire-damaged 93-year-old house. With the bucket of a backhoe poised just above the two-story's roof, Coleman criticized the building's negative impact. "This house has been pulling this community down for the past many months. You can see what a disgusting blight this is to this community. And we're here to do something about it," Coleman said.

A few minutes later contractor Lamont Ransom went to work. And as pieces of the house came crashing down, onlookers applauded.

Mayor Coleman held the event to introduce his Home Again initiative. He's asking the city council for $25 million over the next six years to help revitalize declining city neighborhoods. A lot of that revitalization would come from more aggressive code enforcement. But if that fails, Coleman says blighted houses would be destroyed.

"These vacant and abandoned housing units are a catalyst for crime, they reduce property values, they are the symbol of poverty and misery in any community. And my goal is to impact 1,000 of these houses, either through fixing them up - which is the first priority - and as a last resort, demolishing them," said Coleman.

The City says there are 3200 vacant properties in Columbus. Coleman says the city has only been nibbling at the edges of the problem spending about $100,000 last year. Now he promises a full-scale attack.

City attorney Rick Pfeiffer says the house at 901 Miller was purchased several years ago for $70,000. The owner defaulted on the mortgage after a fire in 2003 and has not been heard from since. Pfeiffer says the city will get tough with irresponsible property owners.

"Where you see an abandoned house, where you see a vacant house that's destroyed, there is a failure of an individual not exercising his or her responsibilities to the citizens and to our neighbors. We intend to stop that," said Pfeiffer.

The city spent $5,000 to tear down the house on Miller Avenue. But officials say the benefits outweigh the expense. A city spokesman says a study by Fannie Mae found that houses near abandoned buildings in Philadelphia lost about $7,500 in value. Officials say derelict houses also mean increased crime. One of the neighbors watching the demolition says it was long overdue.

"My name is Monique Smith, and I think this is wonderful because this house has been standing here too long like this. I mean it's just causing more chaos to the neighborhood. You got the crack heads going in there and doing whatever. And I stay right there and I have kids and I don't I don't feel secure at night," she said.

The Driving Park Neighborhood Association's James Johnson put it this way:

"All I can say is mayor and staff, please keep up the good work because this is great!"

Sam Hendren, WOSU News.