A pickup truck stopped in front of 448 Garland Tuesday morning as mayor Justin Hanson snapped a quick photo of the house with his phone.
From the passenger seat, Sam Haskins started thanking Hanson before the window had rolled completely down.
“I live right over there,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this, for all these little burnt-up houses …”
He and his wife, Susi, point out another property, one that is occupied and has windows broken out of it, that needs attention.
“We always get company to come in from the other direction,” Susi said with a laugh.
On Garland Avenue alone there are three houses on the city’s list of blighted properties being torn down.
Hanson calls that “pretty significant,” noting there are nearly five dozen homes on the list. Eleven were scheduled for demolition in the first round.
“It’s really exciting to finally see this come to fruition,” he said. “We’ve really had to dot our Is and cross our Ts … it’s taken a little longer than we wanted, but we’ve done it right.”
The city has torn down a few blighted properties – such as the two houses on either side of it on Washington Avenue – over the last several years, but a $240,000 grant is helping in ways they’d only hoped possible.
“We put in a match of $70,000, so we have about $310,000,” Hanson said.
The initiative was made possible through a cooperative effort with the county.
“This is evidence of how city and county governments can work together to improve the quality of life,” he said. “The county allowed the city to use its Community Development Block Grant application because we’d already made an application for something else. They, too, realize that this is an issue.”
Blighted properties have long been a topic for discussion in the city.
In April 2014, code enforcement officer Lessie Fisher accompanied The Leader on a tour of blighted properties in downtown Covington.
Residents also voice their concerns and complaints about properties like the former compress, between Union and East streets, in the city’s board meetings.
“Folks don’t understand we can't just go on the property and bulldoze houses, property owners do have rights.”
Hanson said residents, like the Haskinses, are ready to see changes made on a larger scale.
Grants that allow for noticeable improvements are more exciting, he said, for them.
“It’s tangible and, for residents, this improves the property values on streets where these houses and businesses are located.”
Removing neglected structures paves the way for opportunity, Hanson said, and allows others to reinvest in the community whether it’s by building a new house or business or committing to keeping existing properties maintained.
That’s what I’m hoping will happen, that as people see this they’ll say, ‘Gosh, they’re really taking this seriously … let me keep my yard cut and keep the trash picked up at least.’