Foreclosure the right option for city

Recently the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners decided to raze another house it considers a danger to its neighborhood.

The structure, at 338 Hay St., is by all accounts a dilapidated building ready to fall down at any moment. Some city officials even question whether a person could walk on the front porch without falling through.

Not only does such a structure, and the accompanying wild overgrowth of trees and weeds, make an unsightly appearance for anyone living on or traveling along that street, it could be a danger to kids or anyone else on the property. City Commissioner Jon Cawley also said a few “squatters” have taken up temporary residence there from time to time, further stressing those who live in the neighborhood.

That the city would raze such a structure is not new — Mount Airy officials have taken down about a dozen such structures in recent years, then put a lien on the property or taken other civil action to recoup the cost from the owner when necessary.

This time the city is taking a different tact. It is pursuing foreclosure plans to take possession of the property.

We believe the city should consider this additional step every time it finds a structure it must tear down.

In the case of the property at 338 Hay St., as it does in all such situations, the city gives the property owner or owners plenty of notice. There are letters, invitations to attend public hearings on the matter, and offers to work with the property owner, to give them time if they are having financial difficulties.

Only after it’s become apparent the owner simply will not, or cannot, take the necessary steps to clear up the problem property does the city act.

While it’s good Mount Airy takes civil action to recoup the cost, we have to wonder what happens to the property afterward? Once a dilapidated structure is torn down and the city recovers its cost, does the lot simply become an overgrown mess? Does it become an unofficial dumping ground for people looking for a quick place to put their garbage? Does it become a hangout for individuals possibly up to no good?

None of these are good options.

Cawley suggested the city consider donating the land at 338 Hay St. to Habitat for Humanity as a way to turn it into a productive, tax-generating residential property once again. We think the city should consider foreclosure for all properties it must tear down.

Every case would have its individuals merits as to why that might or might not be a good idea, but it’s something the city should at least consider every time it looks at cleaning up one of these buildings and lots.

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