It’s not often that a press conference includes tearing down a building. But city and state officials gathered in Rutland Monday to demolish the first of a number of blighted properties in the city’s northwest neighborhood. The event kicks off a $1.25 million renewal project aimed at boosting property values, lowering crime and encouraging homeownership.
Dozens of people gathered to watch as demolition equipment tore into an abandoned apartment house that Rutland Police Chief Jim Baker says his department knew well. “We were there on countless occasions,” said Baker. “They were distributing heroin out of the back of the apartment. I’ve been joking with the mayor for the past year and a half that I want to drive that bulldozer into the front of that house.”
City officials in Rutland say a $1.25 million community development grant, funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, will allow the city to get rid of an estimated 11 other blighted multi-family properties in a neighborhood hit hard by the drug trade.
Mayor Christopher Louras says the city will partner with NeighborWorks of Western Vermont, a local nonprofit housing agency, to implement the grant.
Once buildings are identified for the program, Louras says they’ll either be renovated or demolished, replaced with single-family homes or green space. “When some people see blighted properties, we see opportunity and action,” said the Mayor. “When some people see boarded up buildings that have been abandoned, we see home ownership.”
But local homeowner Rob Fredette is skeptical. He’s lived in Rutland’s northwest neighborhood since 1990. Standing on his front porch he points to several boarded up houses that he says have been empty for years. He says he’d love to see the city tear down the one on the corner, but he alleges there’s an active drug dealer right next door. “Yeah, it’d be great, but who they going to get to buy these houses? Who’s going to want to move into this neighborhood?” asked Fredette. “Even if it’s a brand-new house and they can afford it, who’s going to want to move down here?”
Kelly Greene would. He recently bought and is renovating a home in northwest Rutland just around the corner from Rob Fredette.
Greene says he’d like to see the city tear down the building next door. It was a crack house that he says burned down last spring. “It’s a lot quieter now that the dealers are gone,” he says with a touch of irony.
But he says boarded up houses and blight are things you find in every town. He says the only way to fix a neighborhood is one house at a time.“If you fix up a neighborhood and people care about their homes, they’ll care about who’s in their neighborhood,” says Greene. “If you don’t care that you have a crack house next to you, then they’re going to stay there. If you stand outside and call the police and take down license plate numbers and watch like people used to and talk to your neighbors and be nice to each other,” he says “things work out then.”
That’s exactly the type of neighborhood cooperation and pride officials hope to create more of in Rutland with the redevelopment grant.