Lexington seeing growth in new homes, restoring historic property

LEXINGTON, N.C. -- It can be bittersweet to see older homes reduced to rubble, but city leaders say it can also be a positive sign for growth.

On Salem Street, crews worked to bulldoze two old white houses. Each house had stood there for more than 100 years.

“The houses on Salem Street, they’re all gone just about. And that’s just sad, it’s pathetic when you stop and think about it,” Ann Corn said.

Ann Corn has lived around the corner since 1945. She's seen houses get torn down all around her.

"This is all that’s left. When I’m gone it’ll be gone,” she said.

It's part of a bigger picture to improve Lexington. The director for Lexington's business and community development, Tammy Absher, says housing within the city is picking up.

“Ten years ago, city council invested in the blight removal program and now we are really reaping the benefits of that,” Absher said.

Since that program started, around 400 blighted homes have come down. Each year the most run-down properties have been demolished. That work has helped clean up neighborhoods and make them safer.

When the program started, there was not much money for development. The city also had recently dropped considerably in population because of the loss of some of the plants. That meant there was a lot of vacant property left in the city. By demolishing the properties, the city was also able to make the ratio of housing better match the population and prepare it for growth.

While they have seen success with demolishing the most blighted homes, there has always been an effort to preserve historic homes.

More recently, the city is starting to see that interest spark in development as well.

“Now what we’re starting to see, unless the property is really too far gone, the homeowner is starting to make the investment, make use of those houses and do the renovations when it’s possible,” Absher said.

Absher says historic properties reflect the character in the city and they try to protect them as best they can, but sometimes the properties are too damaged.

In the case of these two homes on Salem Street, a builder tried to salvage them, but they were too far gone. The cost to rehabilitate the houses exceeded the cost of the property.

“This one was in pretty bad shape, it had a lot of dust and a lot of junk,” Wiatt Hedrick said. He is working on tearing down the homes.

The good news is, if a new property is built where a home is torn down, it still has to blend in with the neighborhood surrounding it.

Currently in Lexington, around 200 properties are in the works to be redone. Some are apartments, others are homes. Some of the properties can be salvaged, others will have to be demolished and rebuilt.

Now, Absher says the city is starting to see more people come to Lexington to live and also there are more outside developers beginning to come in as well.

“It is a huge telltale sign. It tells us that the economy is growing and that things are turning around in Lexington,” she said.