246 and rising - getting a handle on Watertown’s vacant homes

wwny 246 and rising - getting a handle on Watertown’s vacant homes

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Watertown neighborhoods are filled with rundown, empty homes - 246 of them and the count continues to grow. That number comes to us as the city does its best to tackle vacant homes and zombie homes.

Every day, Christine Shipley is out in Watertown inspecting vacant properties.

Her job is part of the city's Vacant Home Initiative to tackle rundown properties. The city is using grant money to take on a project like this for the first time.

"The initiative is to prevent any further distress to keep the community and the neighborhood looking good. We don't want them to go into disarray. We don't want to have to condemn them. Our job is not to displace people our job, it's to keep the population and the community happy and safe," said Shipley, building safety inspector, Watertown Codes.

So far Shipley has found 246 properties in the city to be vacant; 40 of those properties are considered zombie homes, houses which are foreclosed on and abandoned.

"Any time that you have a house that is deteriorating, that brings down values in the whole neighborhood. Any time that you've got a house that's being improved, it brings up the values," said Lance Evans, chairman, Watertown Housing Committee.

But Shipley and Evans both say that vacant homes are not only a challenge for a city, they're an opportunity.

"It's a challenge to get out here and take care to look into everything that needs to be looked into and plus I'm the only one out here doing it. It is a great opportunity it gives an opportunity to developers and flippers to take advantage of some of these house people walked away from and fix them up and give it some other family to love," said Shipley.

And on December 1, a law going into effect will hold vacant property owners accountable. If their vacant building has code violations, they will have to register with the city and pay fees.

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