The house at 1620 Duke University Road, owned by Jan Katherine Smith and her husband, has been abandoned for at least a decade now. These are baffling situations that I still can't really grasp - I contacted the owner a few times about 6 years ago about whether she and her husband would sell the house through HPSD, and she stated that they were "going to fix it up." I wrote up information about renovation and financial assistance programs and sent it to them. Multiple people have contacted me about wanting to buy this house to fix it up, and come away from the conversation self-assured that they would be the person to convince the owner to sell the house. They have failed.
I simply have trouble understanding the motivation to pay property taxes and periodically cut the lawn/rake leaves on an abandoned house for ten years. It is clear that the owners have no intention to fix up the property, despite what they may say. They also seem to have no intention of selling the house.
This the crux of the problem with our legal/policy remedies for this problem. This abandoned house exacts costs from its neighbors - the houses on Swift, the converting-to-condos building next door, and the entire West End. In a very prominent spot, it is the gateway of decay as one enters the West End from Duke territory to the west.
What policy remedy do we have? If we call 'Neigborhood Improvement Services' about the house, the result is demolition. But the house isn't the problem - there are plenty of people out there willing to invest the money to renovate this structure, which still has great detail/massing. It is also a very difficult lot to build a new structure on.
The problem is the owners, who do not pay the costs they inflict on the neighborhood. The people at NIS are too bull-headed to consider more creative solutions to this problem.
The policy model that most interests me is vacant property receivership. While the full details would require a long explanation, the crux of the model is that the courts appoint a receiver to assume partial control of a property for the purpose of repairing the property/code violation(s). The receiver can then place first-priority liens on the property for the cost of nuisance-abatement. If the owner pays off the liens, then the owner retains the property, and the community's costs have been abated. If the owner refuses, the receiver can apply to the courts to foreclose on the property for recoup the cost of the repair.
It's more complicated than that, and typically includes provisions for dealing with economic hardship, stipulations about who can be a receiver, specific aims of foreclosure (whether housing foreclosed upon has first priority for affordable housing), etc.
You can read in more detail here. (You'll need to scroll down - but you can also note on this excellent website how un-creative and backward Durham is in dealing with this issue in comparison with other cities.) We would need state-enabling legislation to create receivership; about 20 states grant their municipalities this power. It has been used quite successfully in many cities with vacant property problems - Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Baltimore, and others.)
What would make everyone happy would be to see the house at 1620 Duke University Road renovated and occupied. Why don't we go about creating policy to reach that goal instead of our currrent policy, wherein everyone loses?
This house finally was released from the grip of its previous neglectful owner, and has been completely renovated.
(Below in italics is from the 2010 National Register listing; not verified for accuracy by this author.)
This one-story hip-roofed house is three-bays wide and triple pile with a projecting bay on the left side of the façade. A full-width, hip-roofed ell extends across the rear, projecting from the main hip slightly on each side. A low, hip-roofed addition (likely an enclosed porch) exists behind this, across the rear of the house. The house has a hip-roofed front porch across the façade that wraps around the right side of the house, terminating in the cross-hipped block at the rear. The porch is supported by replacement, grouped posts on painted brick piers. The front door is a single-pane over three-panel front door with matching sidelight. The house is covered with wood weatherboards and has two interior corbelled brick chimneys and one- over-one wood windows. Windows on the enclosed rear porch are a combination of one-over- one, six-over-six, and nine-over-one wood windows. The house stands on a hill above Duke University Road, facing Maplewood Cemetery across the street, and has a high concrete retaining wall and concrete stair along the road. Tax records date the house to 1912, but it does not appear in city directories until 1925, with the address of 1520 West Chapel Hill, when it was occupied by Royal W. and Nettie G. Smith. Smith owned the Royal W. Smith Company, a furniture and home furnishings company in the 100-block of West Chapel Hill Street; the company employed a number of neighborhood residents.
Garage, c. 1925 – One-story, front-gabled, frame garage with shed-roofed addition on the right side. The garage has molded wood weatherboards, an asphalt-shingled roof, a plywood door on the east elevation, and a one-over-one vinyl window on the north elevation. The garage faces Swan Street.