Ardmore struggles to keep up with demolition of condemned homes throughout the city

Tiffany Ditto /
Glenn Coffman, from Durant, demolishes a home at 130 B St. NW, in Ardmore. The home has been condemned since March of 2012.

When traveling to Ardmore, newcomers may notice the charm of downtown, the new development on 12th Ave and Rockford Road, or what seems like a high number of abandoned or condemned buildings.

Currently, the city of Ardmore has 140 condemned buildings and homes throughout the city which effects the general aesthetics, but also creates a safety issue as the homes can provide shelters for transient individuals and sometimes drug operations.

“It is a blight on the city,”said Jessica Scott, Ardmore development services director. “They’re an unattractive nuisance. But, even at 50 homes a year, if no more came on the list, we’re looking at a 10-year project. We’re limited by funds, so we can only do so much.”

The city prioritizes its $30,000 budget for tearing down these condemned buildings by assessing the need.

“If it’s a drug house, it has to come down,” Scott said. “If it’s a home that caught on fire, we will usually tear those down because they’re unsafe.”

In order to condemn a building, the structure would have to be declared unsafe to

ive in. This could mean that it’s dangerous, or just unhygienic. The most common of these are cases where the home lacks water, electricity ora toilet. Other common cases include structural issues where the roof, or other part of the structure has collapsed or will collapse soon.

If a structure is dangerous, or lacks things needed to live hygienically— like a toilet— the home is immediately condemned. If the structure can be repaired, the owner is typically given 10-30 days to resolve the issue. While some residents argue that lacking a working toilet, or running water, is not an issue Oklahoma law states that homes must have running water.

“Most of the homes we condemn are unsafe,” Scott said. “We’re all about the citizens of Ardmore living in safe structures.”

Once a home is condemned the owner has a few options: fix up the house, tear it down, or sell it as a condemned structure. Scott said a market for condemned structures exists because buyers can purchase the home at a low rate, and then work to fix up the residence. Often, like many cases seen in Ardmore, the homeowners choose one of these avenues but eventually gives up on the home— leaving it abandoned.

Homes that have been condemned and abandoned can pose issues for the city because transient people will often stay in the homes— even though it’s illegal to do so once a home has been classified as dangerous.

City Manager J.D. Spohn said this issue is very apparent during winter months. Most of these homes no longer have electricity and because of that people who seek shelter in them occasionally will start a fire inside to keep warm or cook food. As a result, some of these homes end up catching fire and burning down.

While simply driving into all of these homes with a bulldozer seems like a quick fix, it is easier said than done.

In order to demolish a home the city must hold a demolition hearing where the property owner is able to come and plead their case.Owners can explain their situation and make plans to remedy the issues at these meetings. These negotiations can go on for months, or sometimes years, as owners are given more time to fix the home. When owners have been given ample opportunity to fix the home and still haven’t fixed it, only then is it scheduled for demolition.

However, these demolitions are at the mercy of the city’s limited budget.

The average cost of demolishing a home in Ardmore is $800 - $5,000— meaning one home can easily blow through six percent of the year’s demolition budget. Since January, Scott and her team have demolished 18 condemned homes throughout the city. Last year, from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017 the city demolished 35 homes.

“I wish we could do them all at once, but we can’t,” Spohn said. “I don’t know of a city that can. Our goal is to get down where we have 40-50 homes and we can take a big bite.”

Spohn said that over the last 10-years the city has made a push to tackle this issue head on. As Ardmore grows, so will its population. A large number of condemned homes could mean lower property values.

Having one condemned home on your block probably won’t impact your property values very much. However, add several and the value of your property could decrease, according to Don Dickson Jr. of Dickson Appraisals and Home Inspections.

“It’s called an external condition and it could affect the value of your home,” Dickson said. “But, there are so many variables in appraisal work. It’s something that takes time, some areas (condemned homes) will hurt property values worse than others. Really, the value of homes in Ardmore don’t seem to rise and fall as much as larger metropolises.”

The work doesn’t end at demolition. Once the rubble is hauled off the county assesses what comes next for the land. If there is a lien placed on the lot, the county auctions the land in a effort to regain back taxes, and tries to compensate the city for any tax dollars lost while the lot was abandoned.

“We want to make the city look nice, and we try to budget and prioritize as many as we can,” Spohn said. “The goal is for infill housing to be constructed on these plots so that we have a nice home someone can live in.”