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Old Fourth Ward Resident Worries Aloud About Deadbeat House

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Snakes, mosquitoes, squatters, and piles of spoiled food — steps from a playground — have new O4W denizen on edge

After spending much of her life in big cities, Shelly Scott moved to the Old Fourth Ward earlier this year, attracted to its diversity, amenities, and centralized location. The proximity of Morgan-Boulevard Park up the street — which emanates children’s laughter after school — was an added bonus.

Scott had grown accustomed to vacant houses as being part of America’s urban backdrop, but she says the blighted home next door has become something far worse. And her situation, she says, underscores several issues with Atlanta’s real estate market and processes for governing blight.

"It's probably one of the worst kept-up properties that I have seen in my life," says Scott of the boarded-up, graffiti-strewn brick bungalow at 493 Winton Terrace.

Across Atlanta, thousands of homes sit vacant — some forgotten, and others bargaining chips that investors and inheritors are keeping in their pockets for now.

Scott acknowledges the vacant house — tucked off Boulevard, a couple of blocks from Ponce City Market and Historic Fourth Ward Park — likely has a negative pull on her street’s property values, but she says her primary concern is for kids playing a stone’s throw away at the park. In recent months, she says, the property's become a haven for mosquitoes and snakes and a dumping ground for garbage, decaying food, and soiled clothing.

In April, Scott outlined another concern in a letter to Office of Code Compliance leaders:

"For the last few weeks, a small group of homeless people [has] taken up residence on the front porch of the home and yesterday there were a number of people gathering [in] the backyard and hanging out. The home is absolutely not safe enough for anyone to be on the property; it is structurally unsound, even to those with an untrained eye in engineering."

Scott grew frustrated with what she calls a lack of response from the city. One code enforcement official she spoke with informed her it can take more than a year to bring property owners to court in an effort to rectify the situation, she says.

"Is the City of Atlanta doing anything to expedite the process surrounding these homes?" wrote Scott. "Is there any way this property could take some degree of priority given its proximity to the park and daily issues with people inhabiting it?"

Property records indicate the home was foreclosed on in 2008, and the current owner bought it the following year. Attempts to reach the homeowner this week were not successful.

Multiple attempts to sell the home since 2009 were unsuccessful, according to Zillow data. It was last pulled from the market in 2013 at $120,000.

Scott isn’t alone in her woes, and city officials have vowed to not remain idle in the war on blight.

Last year, the city’s economic development arm, Invest Atlanta, announced an initiative to reduce the number of vacant, blighted homes in Atlanta by 20 percent by the year 2020. Achieving that would mean bulldozing or fixing up some 1,500 houses, officials said.

Elsewhere, city officials in Portland, where the real estate market is booming, have recently formulated a plan to foreclose on so-called "zombie houses." It’s part of a longterm effort to shoo squatters and free up housing in a market that’s starved for it.

But possibly not as starved as Atlanta, which one recent study suggested is gripped by the nation’s worst home shortage right now.

As for Scott, she thinks the situation next door speaks to a larger issue: owners sitting on "dilapidated properties in high-growth areas in [an] effort to try to make a lot of money off of them" with no motivation to sell or renovate now.