Empty Solutions For Abandoned Buildings That Plague OKC

Tuesday, February 3rd 2015, 10:33 pm

By: Karl Torp

Abandoned houses and apartments in the metro can suck the safety out once thriving neighborhoods. Oklahoma City has tackled the problem multiple times, only to end up with solutions as empty as the homes they're trying to get rid of.

In Bethany, Jack Mitchell said he sees an abandoned apartment complex over his fence across N.W. 18th Street, within Oklahoma City's city limits.

"It's a little uneasy at times because you don't know what is going on," Mitchell said. "Putting a few boards up and wire across the driveway isn't going to change the situation; it's going to make it worse."

Jack's neighbors have petitioned the city to get rid of the abandonment, that's been more eye infection than eye sore.

"I've just got a big run around, that's what I've got," said Al Ballard, a Bethany neighbor. "It's dangerous. It's a draw for homeless people and so forth."

The city admitted it's nearly defenseless when it comes to demolishing all of the once-estimated 12,000 abandoned properties, especially the large apartment complexes.

"I call them warehousers," said David Oen, Chief Building Inspector for the city. "They'll come in from California, Florida and they won't do nothing [sic], board them up because they don't want the headaches of dealing with the tenants."

Oen walked through perhaps the city's most empty wastelands, Lantana, located in the 7400 block of N.W. 10th Street, which showed the scars of intentionally set fires and the kicking feet of persistent vagrants.

"Our budget for the year, maybe $300,000, this thing you are looking at, $1 to $1.2 million to take this complex down," said Oen.

Instead the city will clear debris and cut the tall grass. Lantana and its owners out of California have racked up fines totaling at least $80,000. However, the city won't likely see any of that cash until it sells.

"There's no for sale sign on these," Oen said.

In 2014, the city voted to create an abandoned home registry, but Oklahoma lawmakers got rid of it, in part, because of the fee homeowners would be charged to be on it.

"We didn't feel it was a tax," Oen said. "We felt it was a good tool to have because it would have given us someone locally that we could have gone after."

Without the accountability, homeowners like Mitchell wait until the market warrants a sale.

"It's empty and it's not going to get any better, it's just going to keep getting worse," said Mitchell.

But nobody around the abandoned, barren and boarded up area seemed to be holding their breath.


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