Vacant homes are growing problem in Louisville


by Johnny Archer

Posted on November 12, 2013 at 1:51 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 13 at 12:37 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11)-- There are more and more vacant homes popping up in Louisville. It's a scar that runs deep in the city where more than 6,000 vacant properties plague the metro area.

“It’s just an eye sore,” said June Berger, who lives in West Louisville. “That's the word my dad used to call it in Ohio where I’m from and something has to been done.”

It is not hard to spot the over grown greenery and boarded up doors.  They are an unwelcome sight to the people who live near them.

“This is my concern since its right next door to me,” said Lonnie Golston Jr., a West Louisville resident.

Golston lives next to a home at 34th and Kentucky Streets that has been vacant for more than 10 years after the owner passed away.  Now, uninvited guests call that place home.

“You see cats, possums, there are some big mice and I’ve seen cats that had them in their mouths,” said Golston. 

The problem in Louisville began in the 1960's, when people started moving out of west Louisville and into more suburban areas. Socio-economics, community planning and transportation are all contributing factors to the increase in vacant properties. Because of the migration out of west Louisville, it is the hardest hit area where 66% of vacant properties are located.

Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton is from District 5 that covers Portland, Chickasaw, Shawnee and the Russell neighborhoods. Her district has almost 1,300 vacant properties, the highest number in the metro area.

“The recession in 2008 meant a lot of foreclosures,” said the councilwoman. “So, this problem has really exacerbated over the past five to six years, worse than it’s ever been.”

The homes are not only eye sores, but they can also be attractive to criminals, said Louisville’s director of Vacant and Abandoned Properties, Bill Schreck.

“There is no doubt, if a property is vacant if somebody wants to do something wrong, they think the chances of getting caught is less,” said Schreck.

In the past month, the metro police crime map shows 36 violent crimes happened in District 5. That is where the highest number of vacant properties are located. That is compared to District 11 in the Jeffersontown area where there are only eight vacant properties and not one violent crime happened in the past month.

From eye sore, to crime, to property value - vacant homes are a drain not just to a particular neighborhood, but to the entire city.

“We get part of our revenue through property tax,” said Schreck. “The state does, the schools, fire districts do and we do. So, when property value goes down and taxes are not paid there's less revenue.”

The property value of a shot gun style home in an area with a high number of vacant homes is worth far less than one that is not, as much as 71% less.

Metro government has been working to make legislative changes in Frankfort, KY, giving the city more authority to acquire vacant property. Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer is also cracking down on neglectful owners.

“Last year Mayor Fischer started a collection division with the Department of Finance and Budget that is aggressively going after these individuals that owe metro money,” said Schreck.

“Another solution is demolition,” said Councilwoman Hamilton. “A lot of these structures need to come down. They're eyesore.”

But, many neighbors said they would rather see the homes rehabilitated than demolished.

Matt Stewart is one of those people trying to fix up a vacant home. He recently bought one for $5,800 in the Portland neighbor that has been vacant for two years. It is located in the same neighborhood where Stewart was born and raised.

“The whole environment has changed over the years,” said Stewart. “It used to be like a whole family. But it’s not like that anymore.”

It could be again, with the community working together, Councilwoman Hamilton said.

“We got a lot of work to do,” said Councilwoman Hamilton “Neighbors have a lot of work to do.”

Stewart is willing to give it a try and reclaim part of his past, by fixing up the house in the neighborhood he has so much pride for.

“I think it’s really on the way up,” said Stewart. “I think it will be back to being a vibrant neighborhood.”

But the city still needs to tackle more than 6,000 vacant properties, one house at a time.

Currently, the city is also working to keep people in their homes and prevent more vacancies through a $2 million federal grant that the city will use to renovate up to115 homes over the next five years.