Even as a large backhoe was preparing to demolish a dilapidated home in the Northeast Heights on Tuesday, city officials found a homeless person sleeping inside.
“Fortunately, we were able to try and connect him with services,” said Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, who along with director of city planning Alan Varela were using the home as a backdrop for a quick news conference.
“We also know that these buildings are being burned down all the time by squatters, so it’s a safety hazard for them, and of course for the neighbors,” Keller said.
The home at 1828 Mary Ellen NE, was targeted by the city’s Problematic Property Program, having been abandoned for roughly 20 years and increasingly become a burden on city services. “In the last 12 months this particular building has had 54 APD calls, it’s had seven fire calls, and it’s been boarded up 10 times,” Keller said.
In all, more than 32 abandoned and problematic buildings have been razed since the beginning of last year, and there are currently five in the pipeline that are expected to be torn down in the near future.
“It’s not a number that we’re proud of, because it reflects broader problems in our community and we know that,” Keller said. “But we also know when they get this bad, we will tear them down.”
Alfredo Cruz, project manager for Grancor Environmental, the company hired by the city to demolish the home, said the building would be a pile of rubble before the end of the day, with removal of the debris taking place on Wednesday, possibly stretching into Thursday.
Keller took the opportunity to remind people that an amendment to the Nuisance Abatement Ordinance is currently before the City Council and if passed will allow for demolition of problematic properties in a shorter timeframe.
“It should not take 20 years to deal with a building like this, and usually it only takes three years, but that is still too long,” he said. “We need to get that down to about a year, maybe a year and a half — a reasonable amount of time to give people the opportunity to fix up a property.”
Albuquerque’s code compliance manager, Angelo Metzgar, also present for the demolition, said the property was long abandoned by the owner and the city has been trying unsuccessfully for years to get in touch with him to give him the opportunity to bring it up to code.
The owner “has not been responsive to any kind of contact or any kind of pressure put on him to even contact us to bring this property into compliance,” Metzgar said.
Varela noted that it is generally less expensive for a property owner to demolish an unsalvageable building than to have the city do it and recover the cost later from that property owner.
If the city takes the action, the owner is also looking at “having liens on their property, which affects the title, which makes it even more difficult to sell,” Varela said. “And if the liens are large enough, then we look at foreclosure actions as well. So we really want to encourage all those people out there who have been in contact with us to please go in there and take it down yourself.”