Op-Ed

Advocacy groups, city fighting blight to restore East End

An abandoned building at Third and Race streets in the East End neighborhood collapsed last summer.
An abandoned building at Third and Race streets in the East End neighborhood collapsed last summer. Herald-Leader file photo

Vacant properties are sometimes barely noticeable, but in some Lexington neighborhoods abandoned properties have become the norm.

A surplus of vacant housing can put an undue and unfair burden on neighborhoods, with unsecured buildings covered in trash, weeds and in disrepair.

All of this invites vagrancy and increases the likelihood of criminal activity. None of this may seem relevant unless you live in a neighborhood with street after street of vacant and boarded-up houses, bordered by trash-strewn and weed-covered lots that are devastating to a neighborhood struggling to remain viable for its lower-income, often aging and disabled residents.

Such a neighborhood lies northeast of downtown, known as the East End.

According to recent research from the Vacant Property Research Network, “residents in blighted areas are politically, economically and socially marginalized and exposed to greater than average safety and contamination issues” including lead paint, asbestos, inadequate insulation, aged-out plumbing and electrical systems.

Blight also refers more broadly to litter/trash, vacant/overgrown lots, inadequate street lighting, lack of sidewalks and other basic services and amenities.

The Keep America Beautiful organization has also found that blighted properties “cost city government $5,000 to $35,000 per property and that vacant properties have higher risks of fires, vandalism and other criminal behaviors; also residents in such neighborhoods have greater exposure to public health and environmental risks.”

The East End has always had a diversity of race, culture, age and income. It was once a thriving mix of historic estates, mid-range family residences and shotgun houses.

Following the urban flight of the ’60s and ’70s, many homes were abandoned. Some were converted into boarding homes or low-income rentals; the neighborhood has been in decline for nearly 50 years.

It now has a disproportionate number of abandoned properties, representing nearly 24 percent of Lexington’s total “certified” vacant property, with as many as 10 vacant houses or lots on one block.

Not surprisingly, the East End also has a huge number of code-enforcement violations with as many as 150 citations since the first of this year, including property and nuisance issues that paint a dismal view of this historic community.

Recent changes in the administration of city code enforcement and participation on the Vacant Property Commission have increased citations and abatement on such blighted properties and are imposing higher tax assessments on vacant and improperly maintained properties.

This will eventually help to raise the quality of housing stock and make more properties available for low-income affordable housing as well as make these neighborhoods safer and more vibrant.

This community is very fortunate to have a number of non-profit organizations with a mission to provide affordable housing in such neighborhoods, including Habitat for Humanity, the Urban League, No Li CDC, Emerge Properties and Community Ventures.

These organizations not only convert vacant houses and blighted properties into safe and decent affordable housing but also reduce gentrification while working to transform blighted neighborhoods into vibrant, desirable communities.

A number of community-based advocacy groups, such as the East End Community Development Corp., the Central Kentucky Council for Peace and Justice, the Central Kentucky Housing and Homeless Initiative as well as several neighborhood associations have been actively working to improve community life in these stressed neighborhoods.

All of us in Lexington need to join in such efforts to make our community a safe and vibrant place to live in every neighborhood.

Billie Mallory is a Lexington community activist and founder of East End Community Development Corp.

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