Neighbors complain of squatting, drugs in abandoned homes on Front Street

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Drugs, homeless squatters and smelly piles of garbage. People living on Front Street in Huntsville say it's in bad shape.

This week, city leaders said 'Yes' to getting rid of one of the problem houses, but neighbors say that's not the only home that needs to go.

"You don't want things that are going to create rats, mice, roaches or bedbugs," Walter Coleman said.

Every pile of garbage is from a tenant who's flown the coop. Nothing new for Coleman who says right now, he can't even find his landlord.

"We don't know if he's sick, in the hospital, or passed away or having family problems," Coleman said. "In fact, we're not even paying rent right now."

On this street, it's easier to count the homes that aren't boarded up. The worst of them is the home at 2030. The locks on the doors are long gone, so are the copper pipes. But, you can find trash and clothes left by homeless squatters.

"I asked them, do you live here? They said yeah," Duane Mahaffey said. Mahaffey is an inspector for Huntsville's Community Development Office.

One problem, the power and water to the home were shut off long ago.

"When I investigated further, I saw it didn't have a roof. And then I saw how bad it was," Mahaffey said.

The house on Front Street is a case of an absentee owner, one of several in Huntsville. But even once the city tracks down the owner, they can't just force him to sell. They have to give him a chance to fix it. That means phone calls, letters in the mail and complaints. And that can take months, or years, before the city slaps an orange tag on the door.

"And there's several dates. If we miss a date, we have to start the process all over," Mahaffey said.

The home on Front is a last resort. A simple vote this week from the council sealed its fate. The house, which still has asbestos in the walls, will be torn down.

"This should've happened already and I was expecting them to do just that," Coleman said.

Mahaffey says the house will be long gone by Christmas. A good start, neighbors say, but more homes on Front Street may not be far behind.

If you live near a home you think is abandoned or falling apart, Huntsville's Community Development Office wants to hear from you. You can reach them at 256-427-5400 or by emailing Michelle Jordan, Huntsville's Director of Planning.

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