Residents want dilapidated houses removed

The above home is one of many abandoned on Cemetery Street. | Barbara Ball

WINNSBORO –  Distressed properties have Winnsboro resident Yvette Howard feeling well, distressed.

For more than a year, Howard has been voicing her concerns about abandoned and dilapidated housing in the vicinity of Cemetery Street and Davis Circle. She again voiced those concerns at the Sept. 4 council meeting.

“Four years ago, letters went out to property owners to comply with the town codes,” she said. “Some of the absentee property owners are local people who can be easily located.

“However, the codes are not being enforced equally to all citizens down on Cemetery Street,” Howard continued. “We have to get people to clean up their lots, whether they have the money or not, somehow get them to abide by the town codes.”

A Google Street View tour of the neighborhood shows some homes with clean facades and freshly cut grass.

Other properties, however, are boarded up or have weeds overgrowing the fence line. Several cars can be seen parallel parked along the narrow streets.

Council members didn’t specifically have any conversation about dilapidated houses after the public comments, and in a telephone interview Tuesday, Councilman Clyde Sanders said he sympathizes with Howard’s plight.

But Sanders said addressing the issue is a slow process, noting that sometimes after one home is brought into compliance, another falls into non-compliance.

He also said state law has very specific rules on the books governing how nuisance properties can be handled.

“The thing that makes it stand out in Winnsboro is that it’s concentrated in a small area, so it stands out more than it would in Columbia or Myrtle Beach,” Sanders said.  “Every town or city has dilapidated houses. We’re doing everything we can, we’ve identified a lot of them, or a majority of them, and we’re doing everything we can to get them taken care of.”

Public Safety Director John Seibles couldn’t be reached by telephone Tuesday.

At the Sept. 4 meeting, Seibles delivered a report that said the town received 21 complaints in August.

No citations or building demolition permits were issued, though the report said many of the violations involved abandoned homes and vehicles.

The report listed several bullet items referencing various property owners with whom the town is working.

One item noted that an illegal scrap metal business was found operating on Columbia Road. The town issued the business a warning to cease doing business in a residential area.

“There had been several complaints from residents about the noise and visual appearance of a gas tank machine and scrap metal,” town documents state.

Abandoned and distressed homes have become a statewide issue.

Greenville, Rock Hill and Clemson in recent years have enacted strict laws addressing dilapidated structures.

Clemson, for example, requires owners choosing to rent their properties to live within a 75-mile radius of the home to more closely monitor it. The City of Aiken recently considered a 45-mile radius requirement in a proposed rental registration ordinance, according to city documents.

Sanders said the issue in Winnsboro mainly involves local residents who, after passing away, bequeath their homes to relatives. Tracking heirs is tricky.

“The ones that are local are more willing to work with us,” Sanders said.

Other homes are tied up in legal proceedings.

Manpower is another issue.

At the council meeting, Howard quizzed members about whether a full-time code enforcement officer will be hired soon. She noted the current code enforcement officer works part time.

“I would like to know if any progress has been made on this,” she said.

Rock Hill employs five code enforcement officers. The city also dedicates $100,000 to a fund dedicated to demolishing boarded buildings.

Sanders said demolishing buildings is costly, estimating the cost at between $10,000 and $20,000 per home.

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