Richmond residents urge city to address growing list of vacant homes

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Vacant buildings are often hideous and they can bring your property value down.

Longtime Richmond resident Helen Oliver has lived near a vacant, dilapidated house on 23rd Street for years. Oliver takes pride in her own home and of her neighborhood, but she said the city will not do anything about the vacant building near her house.

“I’ve called I’ve been to the basement up to the mayor’s office I’ve been there so many places at city hall that they know me,” complained Oliver.

On North 24th Street a house that residents say has been vacant for at least six years is scheduled to be demolished. The historical looking building is tightly wedged between two other homes.  Rasheena Cotman owns a house next to it and says the home has been vacant as long as she’s lived there.

“I feel like I’m in danger because I feel like the house just might fall down,  and I have four kids and they can be injured,  and plus I have some roof issues and it may come from there, and the weeds in the back they’ve overgrown and taken over my fence and it’s knocked my fence down so I have to get my fence replaced,” Cotman said.

Cotman added she has also seen a family of raccoons come and go from the house as well homeless people.

““He didn’t stay everyday, but I would see him sometimes that was a little scary,” she said.

Richmond does keep a list of vacant properties, and right now there are about 1,700 buildings on that list.

“It’s not illegal to have vacant property however property owners should board any windows or any points of entry,” city spokesman Mike Wallace said, adding that concerned citizens can report vacant buildings that appear to be a hazard to the community.

On the city’s list it states who owns the property. For instance, a local hospital owns some vacant buildings which the medical center plans to renovate into a community center.  Even the Richmond Redevelopment Housing Authority is on the list of owning at least 32 properties, however RRHA has not responded to our requests to find out what it plans to do with the properties.

Darrell Wiggins is a contractor who wants to buy a couple of dilapidated houses on Alvis Avenue to flip. One of them is a brick building that he thought it would be an easy purchase.

“I have found out the owner died in 1998, no taxes paid no relatives no anything,” Wiggins said. “When I questioned the city attorney, I asked him how long will it take to get it on the market and they said maybe several more years, several more years so you add that to the 15 years we’re talking maybe 20-years of no taxes being paid.”.

John Walsh is Richmond’s Codes Enforcement Operations Manager. He said taking over a vacant building isn’t something that can be arranged overnight.

“You’ve got to remember Virginia is a property rights state and the courts weigh heavily on the side of the property owners when it comes to these sort of things,” Walsh said. “So we have to be very careful that we’ve done everything that the court wants us to do before we make some sort of extreme move by taking by either demolition or sale,” Walsh said.

In the meantime, 8News has learned the city now has plans to place the building on 23rd Street in the hands of the city attorney for a tax sale and according to a Richmond city spokesman the house that contractor Wiggins wants to buy on Alvis Avenue will probably also be put up for sale.

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