090421 City Demolition

James Neiss/staff photographer Niagara Falls, NY - Joyce Tice of 459 7th street lives next to two condemned homes. Tice complained about the rodents and smells coming from the two boarded up building.

A war chest to demolish derelict homes in the city continues to grow.

The city’s Community Development Department has been awarded a $200,000 grant to knock down homes in the South End, specifically between Fourth and Seventh streets and Niagara Street and Ferry Avenue — neighborhoods located mere blocks away from the city’s downtown tourism district and Seneca Niagara Casino and Hotel.You are viewing a Flash 360º interactive virtual view of 7th Street. Use the navigation bar, or click and drag inside the image with your mouse to look around. You can also expand the image to full screen by clicking on the last icon on the navigation bar. Image by James Neiss

“That area is in pretty bad shape,” said Robert Miller, president of the Niagara Falls Block Club Council. “There may be a couple of houses that may be salvageable but that’s it.”

The $200,000 grant funneled through the state consists of federal Housing of Urban Development funding from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. It will add to $1.1 million the city has already allocated toward demolitions, which is more than double what was spent last year. Of that amount, $600,000 is coming from community development funds and about $500,000 is coming from the city’s share of casino money.

Community Development Director Robert Antonucci said his department is moving ahead with finalizing a list of demolitions to be bid out in the upcoming months. So far, 50 homes have gone through the condemnation process and been cleared by the state’s Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation.

The city is continuing to work with block clubs to target dangerous and crumbling structures, he added. On Monday, City Council members asked that a higher priority also be placed on knocking down highly visible homes that are often passed by tourists.

Miller said block club members are encouraged to fill out “hot spot sheets” identifying derelict buildings and submit them to the city’s inspections department. Hundreds of homes have already been tagged, with most of them located in the North and South ends.

“Right now we’re concentrating our efforts on the ones that are really uninhabitable,” Miller said.

According to inspection officials, one out of every five homes in the city is in need of demolition or rehabilitation.

“That’s excessive,” Councilman Robert Anderson said. “Those are homes for drug dealers, users, pedophiles, you name it. We need to take every one of them down, but it costs a lot of money to do it.”

In past years, the city budgeted between $350,000 and $475,000 in Community Development funds to demolish homes. Depending on the condition of the structures and whether they contain asbestos, that amount can cover between 25 and 30 homes. The city also has the authority to bill homeowners for the demolition work.

Last fall, the block club council submitted a “plan of action” calling for the city to use $4 million in casino funds over the next two years to demolish homes. While the city hasn’t committed to that level of funding, Mayor Paul Dyster did decide to designate casino funding to double the available budget.

Dyster said he would like to one day limit the number of homes in need of demolition and instead work to restore the structures.

“We know that once the building has gotten past the point of no return, it’s important to demolish it as quickly as possible,” he said.

Lawmakers are also coming up with a plan to determine what to do about the vacant lots once demolition occurs. In the past, consideration has been given to neighbors interested in expanding their property. The city may also land bank some of the properties for future development.

Contact reporter Rick Forgione

at 282-2311, ext. 2257.

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