By C.V. Moore
MOUNT HOPE —
Both the trees and the neighborhoods of Mount Hope are shedding some dead weight this season.
Between now and mid-December, 20 houses will come down in Mount Hope, the result of a $1.5 million Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant to reduce the number of blighted structures in town.
Before last week’s winter storm, as oak leaves fell on a freshly fallen building on Mound Street, Mayor Michael Martin looked at the scene and said, “This is really kind of beautiful. It’s going to dress up the community.
“The big picture is we remove the blight and then somebody like this neighbor decides to paint their house, and this other neighbor decides to fix something that’s looking shabby,” Martin added. “It ought to move through the entire community.”
The Mound Street structure, an old concrete block apartment building, was a useful hiding place for feral cats and neighbors’ garbage. All the electric wiring and copper were stripped long ago. And thick swaths of vines knit the structure to power lines overhead.
It was owned by three different entities and spanned across three separate lots, just one of the many complicated legal scenarios the town had to navigate for this project.
“This building, for as long as I have known it, has been empty, a haven for rats and critters,” said Anthony Canada, who works for the New River Health Association in Mount Hope. “The vines had taken over. Even though it’s on a back street, citizens live here. I’m quite sure the neighbors will be glad to see this eyesore gone.”
He drove by the demolition project and congratulated the mayor for the beautification effort.
“Everyone seems anxious to see these buildings come down,” said Jerry Lilly of B&B Transit, who is doing the demolition work.
According to the mayor, Mount Hope went through a period during the 1960s and ’70s when things “went downhill until they could not go much further.” Property values were so low that three-bedroom houses were available for next to nothing.
Those who purchased the houses often didn’t have much investment in them. Taxes went unpaid and eventually the properties were sold at tax sale.
“Many of the properties sold at a tax sale tend to get blighted pretty quick,” said Martin. “A lot of these have been sold at tax sale five or six times.”
The “tax sale people,” said Martin, may buy a property sight unseen for dirt cheap, come to find out it is severely dilapidated, and then simply cut their losses. Taxes once again go unpaid, and the cycle continues.
“We just have a vicious circle,” said Lesley Taylor of Region 4 Planning and Development Council, the agency administering the dilapidated housing grant. She said it is a statewide issue.
“People buy them sight unseen and then end up with a property with a cloudy and unmarketable title, and a hazard. You have purchased a liability.”
Martin hopes to see legislation that would require properties within city limits to be offered to the municipality before going up for auction.
Other times, far-off family members inherit a home when their relative dies, do no upkeep, and are unable to be located.
The city’s new comprehensive plan, which is near complete, includes language calling for the community to do everything it can to relieve the city of blighted structures.
The city hopes to make some of the cleared lots available for building new affordable housing for those who have sold their homes in the Dunloup Creek Buyout or who want to move in from elsewhere.
There is also a lot of public housing in Mount Hope, and the mayor believes that by working with certain agencies, some of its occupants might one day own their own homes in town.
“We can put folks in a home who never thought they would be able to afford a home,” he said.
“All the beautification efforts have been such an improvement, and it makes people in Mount Hope proud again. At one time this was one of the wealthiest towns in Fayette County. I like to see community pride and commitment come back,” said Canada.
“We’ve got a lot going on and a huge opportunity to move ourselves forward,” said the mayor.
The houses are located on Main Street, Lincoln Street, Mound Street, Montana Street, Tennessee Street, North Virginia Avenue, Brown Street, Madison Street, and Monroe Street.
The city will be responsible for upkeep of the cleared properties moving forward.