From Blight to Not: A Success Story

1195 Lawton Avenue after repairs were made and violations were fixed by the owner.
1195 Lawton Avenue after repairs were made and violations were fixed by the owner.
Provided by Macon-Bibb County Code Enforcement

Macon Bibb-County’s Code Enforcement has made it a point to bust the blight problem in Macon since the department was created in 2021.

Blight usually occurs when properties are not taken care of by the owners and end up bringing the property value down in a neighborhood. Blight can be things like abandoned buildings or properties, environmental contamination, or properties where grass is overgrown, windows are broken, or doors are off their hinges. 

Code Enforcement Director J.T. Ricketson and his team have made it their mission to lessen blight in the Macon community.

“​​What happens over time is people will drive through [a neighborhood], and they’ll think, well, these people must not really care about their neighborhood,” Ricketson said. “And so it actually becomes a magnet for crime and gang activity and other things.” 

In many cases, houses that are put on the blight list stay there as they work through the process that often ends in demolition y, which can take years. But, there are cases where the owner of the house or property has fixed the problem and gotten their property removed from the list. 

Johnny Crawford, Code Enforcement Officer, says this is one of the most rewarding aspects of the job.

“I like that you can start a case from the beginning and see it all the way to the end and see progress made on a house or vacant lot,” Crawford said. “You can actually see where you’ve got the owner to accomplish something and see the end result.”

Crawford has been working under Ricketson for about two and half years and said he has dealt with his fair share of houses and properties that successfully make it off the blight list. There was one house on Ashley Street that Crawford actually recommended be torn down, but the owner renovated it. 

“The [owner] completely remodeled it and fixed it up,”  Crawford said. “That’s a perfect example of what it can look like and what the owner can do.”

Remodeling and renovating a house is, of course, easier said than done and there is a bit of a process that goes on from beginning to end. 

The process often starts when  Code Enforcement receives a complaint about a property and they will inspect it. Then they will send a notice of the violation via mail, which the owners will usually have around 30 days to fix. Crawford said most of the time property owners are compliant which makes the process easier for both parties. 

“Every time we have a case, 90% of the time we end up talking to the property owner,” Crawford said. “They’re asking what needs to be done to get off the blight list or what they should do about certain citations.”

If the property owner says it is  fixed, an officer will come by and check it again. If it is not fixed, another citation against the property owner will be issued along with a notice to appear in court. If the defendant appears in court, they will go through a hearing where the owner will get to explain their situation. In some cases, the owner may be issued a fine but they can also be given additional time to correct any problems.

If the owner does not appear in court, the judge may issue fines in their absence. 

Faiz Chaudhry is in the middle of renovating a property right now that was blighted before he bought it. Code Enforcement was sending notices to the previous owner when Chaudhry purchased the property. 

“It was in pretty bad shape when we bought it,” Chaudhry said. “The foundation wasn’t there, we had to build the walls, redo the brick and build the roof. A car went through the building and it flooded so we had to do the HVAC unit.”

Right now he said there is a hold up with Code Enforcement as he is trying to get a temporary power pole to finish the restoration of the house. The house is still in much better condition than when it was purchased.

According to Ricketson, the Code Enforcement process is a multi-step process and takes time to get to the end. Many of the cases might be worked on for over a year to get through all the steps. 

“We are a microwave society, people want things to happen, just like that,” Ricketson said. “And so we have a due process that we have to follow. It took a while, but we got there.”

Fixing a blighted house is far from impossible and according to Crawford, a majority of these houses do get fixed. He says around 70-75% of the time, cases of blight are resolved and fixed by the owner.

1195 Lawton Avenue before it was repaired and taken off the blight list. There were various code violations including the broken windows and overgrown grass. (Provided by Macon Bibb-County Code Enforcement)
1195 Lawton Avenue after repairs were made and violations were fixed by the owner.
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