NC bill targets vacant buildings for repair

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- Empty houses and business line many roads in High Point. A Guilford County representative wants to get rid of those eyesores in mid-size cities.

He filed a bill this month to help turn around housing blight.

The Greensboro-High Point area has one of the worst vacancy rates in the country with more than 31,000 vacant units, according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

"All of this drags down the appearance and drags down the city's attempt to encourage businesses to move into the city," Rep. John Faircloth said.

Faircloth (R), who used to be a member of the High Point City Council, filed a bill he hopes will combat housing blight. Under H.B. 573, if an owner of a vacant building doesn't listen to a city's order to fix it up, a judge could appoint someone to step in.

That person, called a "receiver," would take control and demolish, rehabilitate or sell the empty building.

"Put people back in those neighborhoods in decent conditions," said Brett Byerly, the executive director of the Greensboro Housing Coalition.

Not every abandoned building would qualify for the bill. Faircloth says a city has to go through several steps first if it wants an empty building to come down.

"When they have run out of ways to attempt to fix the problem, that's when this bill would come in effect," he said.

Byerly says empty buildings are move than just eyesores, they can be dangerous.

"It attracts crime and drug use and things that are going on in those houses increases the neighborhood's fear," he said.

"A neighborhood with a poor looking building in the center of one of its blocks, it pulls down all of the surrounding neighbors and just makes it a less pleasant place to live and also hurts property value," Faircloth said.

A similar bill was filed in 2013 but never made it past a House committee. This time, Faircloth says the bill has more traction, as the need to fix the housing blight becomes greater.

"It has a lot of potential as a tool in the toolbox to fix neighborhoods from the inside," Byerly added.

The bill would apply to cities with more than 30,000 people that meet certain criteria. Faircloth says the bill would impact about 20 mid-size cities.