Growing up in St. Louis of the 1950s, we lived on a typical city block, home for almost 13 years being 5074 Beacon. As childhood memories would have it, seems like that block was about a mile long. Our "neighborhood" extended from our house on the south end of our block to about halfway north, no more than six houses to the south and about the same distance east and west. At the outer edge of our neighborhood to the north was the Haunted House.
"Everyone knew" the house was empty. No one had lived there in years my big brother's older friends whispered. But, from the alley if you looked just right at the right time of day you could see the ghosts moving in that attic window. If memory served, we never dared go that way at night so can't report on what transpired then.
If just being empty and looking lost is the criteria, there are a lot of "haunted" houses in Brazil.
During e-mail correspondence with Stacy Gibbens, City of Brazil Planning Administrator, she gave what is certainly a conservative estimate of 200 homes that are simply empty. Some are in foreclosure procedures; some on the market; others simply abandoned, forgotten and forlorn.
The proliferation of empty houses bothers me somehow. Maybe it's some deeply hidden childish fear of empty houses, or my long ago aspiration to be an architect (lacked both ability and talent).
Since it's a bother, and rather than doing anything ourselves, isn't there somebody we can blame? As someone complained to me, "Why doesn't the city do something about (insert pet-peeve here)?"
Somehow it doesn't seem like the city administration caused the problem; and it's not all that clear their fixing it is either something they can do, or for which we want our taxes to pay. And, no matter how big the problem gets, Stacy Gibbens is all we've got to work on it.
There really are some houses that should just be torn down. Not as simple as it sounds, though, Stacy writes in part:
"..the only houses the City has any authority over are the ones that are considered unsafe. Our building inspector makes that determination. If he finds the house is structurally unsound, we can move forward with an "Unsafe Building Order". This is an administrative legal action taken place by the Board of Works and Safety wherein they can order the property owners to either tear the house down or repair it. If they do neither, or if I can't find the property owner, the City may take action to demolish the structure or remodel. We then have the option of recording a lien on the property or filing a civil case to collect the money we have spent taking this action. The City normally chooses to file a lien. THE CITY RARELY RECOVERS THE COST but this is the most economical avenue for collection. (Emphasis mine, DLL).
"There is a separate "unsafe building fund" account set up for this purpose. The City has NOT HAD THE MONEY in the last couple of years to fund this account. (Emphasis mine, DLL).
Then, of course, there are those structures that are sound enough, but grass -- as Carl Sandburg so adroitly pointed out -- grows everywhere.
"...the houses themselves are only half of the problem. The City also uses almost the same process to enforce the nuisance code, which includes clean up and mowing grass.
"...We have no authority over vacant homes that are not 'unsafe'."
Not being herself much a typical bureaucrat, Stacy takes all this much too personal:
"I could go on all day about the particular houses in our community that have been abandoned. I love old houses and it really bothers me when I see a beautiful old house gone to rack and ruin because no one cares for it. I always wonder what the people who built the house and were so proud of it then would think if they were here to see it now. "
Maybe it shouldn't be Stacy's problem to deal with all by herself.
Could we talk the people who cut the grass and sell the gasoline to wait for payment until the city might collect on some possible lien?
Perhaps we could raise taxes to ... Sorry about that.
How about we take some money from fixing the roads.... Never mind.
Can't we just let the darn things deteriorate, drag down property values, and make Brazil a less desirable place to move to or invest in?
Me and Kay (mostly her) tried this approach:
As we were leaving for church one cold Sunday morning about three winters back we encountered neighbors packing up the last of their stuff and moving out. The house was paid off, in good repair; but their health had just deteriorated to the point neither husband nor wife could keep up a home anymore (a situation which looms ominously before this aging blogger).
Come that summer Kay began to cut their front lawn, and from time to time the neighbor on the other side would cut it. (Is that what they call "grass-roots effort"?). Once in awhile a flyer or phone book was left on the porch or lawn, one of us picked it up. Nothing spectacular, but property values did not go down because the place looked awful. Looks like we'll have new neighbors come spring --- seems the place looked well kept. What little Kay did really didn't solve anything, but none of the neighbor kids thought the house was haunted.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.