Savannah mayor pledges to battle blight

To some people “eminent domain” are two very dirty words, but to Savannah city leaders, it’s what they say they need to clean up and improve neighborhoods.

“I had classmates that were on this street. I had community leaders that lived on this street and it looks totally different from the way it was when I grew up,” said Marsha Buford while walking down Cumming Street in West Savannah.

Instead of the thriving few blocks she remembers, there are now at least nine abandoned homes.

“I guess that’s the disheartening part is to see property that people worked so hard for and struggled to keep now completely gone,” Buford said.

Ronald Williams is the president of the West Savannah Neighborhood Association. He says there’s a blighted home on nearly every block and more than 100 in the neighborhood.

“They’ve been here for decades, you know 10, 20 years,” Williams said.

“It’s just not right; it’s just not right,” said Mayor Eddie Deloach, about blighted properties. “We’re going to make a difference here. It’s going to be a big time.”

Deloach is launching “Savannah Shines” – a program that will address vacant and blighted property.
In order for it to work most effectively, he says Governor Nathan Deal must sign house bill 434 — a measure already approved by the state legislature after a push from local leaders in Savannah and Atlanta. It would allow cities to take over a property using eminent domain and sell it immediately, rather than holding on to it for 20 years as the current law requires.

“The difference over three or four years could be pretty dramatic,” said Martin Fretty, of the city housing department.

He would work with neighborhood associations to identify problem properties and streets. He says the city could tackle 120 properties a year and after the initial investment, the program could pay for itself.

“You’re then able to sell the property and recoup most of it so it becomes almost like a revolving loan type situation,” Fretty said.

“Once we get an energy into an area with the help of the city, I think you’ll see private people put in homes and stuff like that because they can make money,” Deloach said.

The vision is an easy sell but he process raises some concern because of the use of eminent domain.

“First of all I would tell them you need to educate yourself as far as what eminent domain is about,” said Williams, about those who are concerned. “Another thing too: if (the solution is) not eminent domain, then what is, what is the solution?”

House Bill 434 requires that properties taken over must remain residential to prevent land grabs by large developers.

“I hope I can build something that the folks who have been hanging in here for these 20 and 30 years can actually see something different,” Deloach said.

Marsha Buford already has that vision of something different and it’s a West Savannah she once knew.

“My hope it that within 10 years from now we ride down Cumming Street and we don’t see yellow tags, and we don’t see boarded up property but we see people with children and a neighborhood that’s viable all over again,” Buford said.

The governor has 40 days to sign the bill. Mayor Deloach hopes backers of his plan will call the governor to show their support.

Governor Deal’s office: 404-656-1776.
To email the governor, click here.

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