WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – The City of Wichita has long battled a problem with abandoned homes and what to do with them.
It’s an issue cities large and small across the state are facing.
Today, the Senate Ethics Elections and Local Government Committee will hear a second round of testimony on Senate Bill 31, regarding abandoned and blighted housing in cities all around Kansas.
The bill aims to streamline and speed up the process for cities to deal with abandoned and foreclosed housing.
KSN spoke with residents in Wichita’s Hilltop neighborhood who say abandoned homes make the area unsafe.
“There’s a lot of babies that live in this neighborhood. I fear for the children. I fear for their parents. I fear for all of us and even most of us have pets and even the pets are at risk,” said Rita Foster.
Foster loves her neighborhood but the number of abandoned homes make her uneasy, she said.
Demolition of abandoned homes can take months, even years after the problem is identified, said Lavonta Williams, Wichita city council member for District 1.
Lavonta hopes this bill will allow cities to take action before properties reach the point of being dangerous.
“Let’s look at all property rights,” Williams said. “Not only that abandoned house and the property owner who owns that but don’t the property rights exist as well to that person who lives next door? Or who is very concerned about their property rights and their property values?”
The city works hard to find the owner of the abandoned home but sometimes that’s not possible, Williams said.
“These are houses where we cannot find the owner, the owner is very unresponsive, the house has been vacant for numerous years and we need to find a way to look into these houses sooner rather than later,” she said.
If you let these houses sit year after year, they become deteriorated, dangerous and vulnerable to thieves, drug use and fires, she explained.
If the home is in bad shape but it’s owned by someone, the city wants to help, Williams said. In many cases there’s a financial barrier, but if that person owns the house, they can apply to the city for that help.
“We never say no. We ask them, ‘How long do you think it will take you before you can get this done or before you can get that done?’ we give a person every opportunity to save their house,” Williams said.
One solution the city is looking at is to hand those abandoned homes to a nonprofit or an organization that could go in, rebuild the house, then rent it out, sell it back or donate it.
For example, some of those houses could be refurbished for homeless veterans, Williams said.
“If they could board all the windows and doors up where it would be impossible for someone to break and enter, that would be a god sent right there,” Foster said.
Check back with KSN for the latest information on Senate Bill 31.