Clock starts on new batch of dilapidated structures

Clock starts on new batch of dilapidated structures

With a vote of approval from City Council members Tuesday, Jan 22, city staff now have at least 45 more dangerous structures marked for demolition in Beaumont.

The approval comes at a busy time for Community Development Director Chris Boone, who said the city has budgeted more tax dollars from the city’s General Fund to demolish or enroll in a work program some 300 “tagged properties” the city has deemed substandard.

According to Boone, the city shares the cost of demolition with the Texas Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), depending on the location of the dilapidated structure.

“On the eastern part of the city — east of 69, 96 and east of I-10 — is the redevelopment area,” he said. “HUD said, ‘OK you can use CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) dollars to demolish properties on that side of the city, but not on the western side.’”

For fiscal year 2011, Beaumont spent approximately $177,906 in General Fund money to demolish commercial properties and residential homes. This number climbed to about $210,000 in fiscal year 2012, Boone said, adding the city has budgeted much more for the coming year — about $325,000.

Boone said the rising cost to the city is associated with commercial real estate not covered by CDBG dollars as well as homes still damaged from Hurricanes Ike and Katrina.

“Commercial varies widely,” Boone said of the cost to demolish commercial structures. “It can be anything from $30,000 for a house that was converted into a church, something like that, to a hotel. If we had to do Castle Motel — we’re not doing that yet — but if we had to do that, it would be substantial.”

Since 2000, the city has demolished some 2,750 of the 44,000 structures in Beaumont, according to Boone.

“We generally do it (demolish homes) every 90 days. This batch we had 50,” he said in an interview after Tuesday’s council meeting. “We’ll do another 50 actually next month. We’ve been held up a little bit.”

One hold up, Boone said, was a lawsuit in Dallas that affected all municipalities in Texas. The case, Stewart v. Dallas, had many municipalities awaiting the court’s decision after a woman sued the city of Dallas when they demolished her home. Stewart was eventually awarded some $75,000 in damages and the Texas Supreme Court’s decision gave homeowners a solid 30 days to appeal a city’s ruling that their home be demolished.

Boone said that while the city postponed many of its demolition projects in 2012 as a result of the lawsuit, little change in city policy had to be made as a result of the ruling.

“The process should be completely different,” he said of the Dallas case. “It should’ve gone through district court and not municipal court and City Council. And that threw basically the whole state into kind of a tailspin. We sat on a bunch (of demolitions), gosh, maybe six months or more because we were kind of in limbo.”

At least three homeowners came before council Tuesday to request they be enrolled in a work program before the city dozed their property.

“I fell on a little hard times,” said Dane Savoy, whose home at 4340 Goliad is up for demolition, “so I’d like some time to repair it and get it up to code.”

Mayor Becky Ames pointed out to Savoy that getting the building up to code isn’t the only requirement homeowners must meet in order to save their ailing structures.

“You recognize that the taxes would have to be taken care of,” she said, referring to property taxes Savoy still owes. “There’s a substantial amount.”

To which Savoy replied, “I’ve signed up for the payment program.”

Joseph Smith also requested his home be spared while he and his family wait on round 2.0 of the newly-approved Hurricane Ike recovery grant money allocated to the Southeast Texas Regional Planning Commission in late 2012.

“We’re in the process of getting the house approved for the Hurricane Ike recovery grant program,” Smith told council members. “So the only thing we need is just an extension to make it through that process.”

Boone said the city will continue to revitalize ailing portions of the city still reeling from Hurricanes Ike and Katrina, noting that many of the dilapidated structures attract crime and homeless squatters.

“It becomes a deal where you’ve got people in there trying to stay warm and the next thing you know you’ve got a fire,” he said. “A lot of these house fires around here, they could end up being these (squatters).”