Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard, center, walks with Ward III Commissioner Christopher Pike, right, while Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard, left, looks at the side of Mamil Brosnan School on North Monroe Street. The building was one of several city and county officials looked at Friday on the mayor’s tour of blighted property.
ALBANY — Albany Mayor Dorothy Hubbard took the first steps Friday in honoring a promise made while campaigning for the mayor’s office by taking a group of local officials and city staff members on a bus tour throughout the county making note of blighted properties.
The bus tour is the first volley in what Hubbard has labeled her war on slums and blight and comes as the city is just days away from its single largest weekend event.
“When it comes to slum and blight, we always talk about it, but today we saw it. It’s alive and well,” Hubbard said.
Joining Hubbard Friday were Dougherty County Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard, city and county commissioners, Keep Albany-Dougherty Beautiful Director Judy Bowles and city staff members.
The stops on the tour included Kitty’s Flea Market, Main Street Estates on Clark Avenue which was formerly Mimosa Trailer Park, the Heritage House Hotel, the former Mamil Brosnan School on North Monroe, the former Shoney’s restaurant off Tallulah Drive, a scrap yard on Newton Road, and the former school on the 600 block of West Broad Avenue.
While the city has taken an increasingly aggressive stance on demolishing blighted properties — currently 230 open blight demolition cases are pending before the city’s Municipal Court — Hubbard said she understands that, ultimately, the best way to eliminate eyesores is through cooperation.
“Those people who own the blighted property ... we do not want to have to take any action against them. We really want to get their cooperation. We want to work together, we want to work with them in cleaning it up,” Hubbard said. “We want the legal part of it to be a last resort.”
And while the property owners are ultimately responsible for their own property, Hubbard said she hopes bringing awareness to blight removal and launching an anti-litter campaign will foster a degree of community-wide pride.
“It’s an economic development thing and it’s a community thing. We have people coming into our city and we need to clean it up so that people know we care,” Hubbard said. “I want every single person in this community to have pride in their community and have pride where they live.”
“One of the easiest ways to do that, is if you see paper on the street or in your yard, pick it up,” Hubbard said. “I know you didn’t put it there, but I’m asking you to pick it up.”
Sinyard, who has been active in working with the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission in recruiting businesses to Albany and Dougherty County, said, litter and blight is something that hinders efforts to create jobs.
“Yes, in our community we have some priorities that are much bigger than (blight removal) ... but in the scheme of things, if you’re a company wanting to locate here, or you’re a company that does business here or you’re just a citizen, having blight and having trash and having a nasty community is something that is critically important in terms of trying to make it better,” Sinyard said.
“I think this tour today, that the mayor has put together, is very helpful and will allow us to work very closely with the city and our code enforcement to make sure that we start getting some of these clean-ups and property owners who have ignored those properties to court and get things done,” he said.
The city has often hit roadblocks when it comes to bringing legal action against derelict property owners because it can be difficult to track who owns a certain piece of property if that person lives out of state, has died, or is part of a larger investment group or firm outside of the state.
That’s the case at Mimosa Trailer Park on Clark Avenue, a place Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard said Friday, he wishes he could “just blow up.”
“It’s frustrating because we spend time and effort and money taking these property owners to court and then they’ll sell it to someone else, and because of the way the law is, we have to start over with the new property owner,” Howard said. “This place used to be Mimosa Trailer Park. Now it’s Main Street Estates and it’s still ugly as sin and we still have prostitutes and drug dealers wandering around.”
As the bus made its way around Dougherty County, phrases such as “blight tax” — a legal mechanism that allows governments to triple the property taxes on blighted properties — and “cite them” — referring to Code Enforcement’s ability to issue citations, were overheard.
At the end of the tour, Hubbard made it clear that the city will use any and all tools at its disposal to hold property owners and literers accountable for blighted property.
“We have ordinances at the state and local level for littering. We have legal actions we can take for blighted property,” Hubbard said. “We want those to be the last resort, but we’ve got to fix this problem. It’s about pride, it’s about crime, it’s about improving our quality of life.”