Georgia H.B. 434 aims to reduce blight

Updated: Feb. 21, 2017 at 4:40 PM EST
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SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Savannah City leaders may get their top request granted during this year's Georgia legislative session.

State Lawmakers have proposed House Bill 434, which would help the city and other municipalities across the state improve blighted properties.

This was the number one issue that the mayor and city council members put on their legislative agenda this year.

They make these lists every year, but remember their list is competing with counties across the state. This is an issue that other counties are also dealing with.

Rep. Ron Stephens is one of five sponsors of the bill which would revise part of the Landowner's Rights and Private Property Protection Act that was passed back in 2006. The current law mandates municipalities to hold onto properties for 20 years after acquiring the property through eminent domain.

"This bill would reduce that amount of time to 5 years I believe, before it could be sold for something else," said Alderman Julian Miller, District 4.

City officials say that's why there are thousands of dilapidated and abandoned homes in Savannah, because the city is not able to resale or improve those properties for 20 years. This new bill that's been proposed would reduce that time frame to only five years.

"Most communities have this same problem. They are trying to grapple with how do we fix this. And we had a monkey wrench thrown at us years ago and this removes the monkey wrench," said Miller.

Savannah residents are weighing in on the bill, and they say they're not 100 percent behind it.

City leaders believe if they can fix up homes and get them sold and occupied, then these homes would no longer attract crime and drug-related issues.

So while it seems like a win-win, not everyone is on board.

"That's a very long time actually," said Nathaniel Wilson, Savannah Resident.

Nathaniel Wilson says he had no idea the city of Savannah was required to hold onto an abandoned house for 20 years after acquiring it through eminent domain. State law requires all municipalities in Georgia to sit on properties they've acquired for two decades before they can improve or sell it.

"5 years seems more reasonable so within 5 years we need to go ahead and see what we need to do to bring these houses back up to standard," said Wilson.

Nathaniel Wilson says he's tired of seeing the same abandoned homes year after year. In fact, there are currently 1,100 vacant homes in Savannah.

But other residents are hesitant to get on board with changing the current law.

"You know I think eminent domain as far as blighted properties is a different issue," said Richmond Fergerson, Savannah Resident. "You know I don't think you need it for blighted properties."

But city officials say eminent domain is a last resort and unfortunately that's where they are with many of these properties. Some folks are not only hoping it will reduce the number of these eye sores in the area but also reduce even bigger issues like crime in their neighborhood.

"If they can do something with these houses, you'll have less of that because it will be a place that's occupied," said Wilson.

Regardless of whether this bill passes the city will continue to work on reducing the amount of blight. They currently have the top 100 worst properties that they are working to bring up to code.

To read the bill in its entirety, please see below:

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