Aldermen vote to demolish 40 houses in city

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Vicksburg got back into the home demolition business Monday with a vote by the aldermen, in the absence of Mayor Paul Winfield, to lift a moratorium and raze 40 dilapidated homes and structures.

“Most of these people seem to have no intention whatsoever of bringing these houses up to minimum standards,” said North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield, who acted as mayor pro-tem.

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The mayor and aldermen placed a moratorium on demolishing dilapidated buildings shortly after Winfield took office in July — due in part to a Winfield campaign pledge to reduce demolitions in the city, but also due to the city and county’s application for up to $35 million in grant funds to create affordable housing through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program.

With the grant opportunity gone, Buildings and Inspections Director Victor Gray-Lewis asked the board last week for permission to demolish a dilapidated and vacant home at 840 Buck St. The board tabled the matter until Monday’s meeting, at which Mayfield and South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman approved not only the demolition of the Buck Street property, but 39 more on the city’s demolition list.

“They’ve kind of taken our kindness as a weakness here,” Mayfield said of owners of dilapidated property since officials placed the moratorium on demolitions. “Of these 40 names, I’ve talked to a minimum of 10 to 12 of them personally, and I’ve asked them over and over and over again to work with us on this. I’ve worked with them in every possible way I can.”

The majority of the homes on the city’s demolition list are vacant or housing vagrants, Mayfield said. In many cases, he said owners have pledged to make repairs, but have not. 

“Some of these properties go back three, four, five years,” noted Gray-Lewis, who said his department would immediately begin notifying property owners the demolition moratorium has been lifted and their properties are again in jeopardy of being torn down. “If the property owners are interested… in making an investment into their properties and upgrading them to meet the minimum standards, we’re more than happy to work with them,” he said.

If not, the structures will be destroyed and lots cleared by city crews or contractors. The cost will be enrolled as a lien on the real estate, which must be paid before a deed can be transferred.

Mayfield said owners with properties on the demolition list will have “until the day that we come to take them down” to draw up a schedule with the city to make the necessary repairs and avoid demolition.

Winfield said he and City Clerk Walter Osborne were attending a Mississippi Municipal League meeting. The MML Midwinter Conference begins today. Reached this morning, Winfield said he would have voted to proceed with demolition of the Buck Street home. However, he said he could not comment on the other properties because he has not seen the city’s demo list.

“Each house has to be taken case by case,” said Winfield, who estimated 1,000 homes or structures were torn down by the city in the eight-year span before he took office last year. “We’re not going back to the old way, I can tell you that most assuredly. The process is going to be fair. People expect us to do what we have to do, but they want it to be a fair process.”

Winfield said the city will be promoting private development, partnering with local nonprofits and applying for state and federal grants in an effort to save dilapidated homes and provide more affordable housing in the city.

“We’re trying to find a better alternative for these properties,” he said.

By Steve Sanoski at