In 1950 the City of Huntington, West Virginia, enjoyed a population of 86,353 individuals. Fresh off the heels of World War II, which brought an economic boom to the Ohio River locality, life was good for residents of the growing city as jobs were plenteous and housing was affordable.
Sadly, prosperity for the Jewel City was short-lived and ended rather quickly once the steel and manufacturing sectors began to slow in the years following the Second World War. By 1980, the city’s population had dropped to only 63,684 individuals and by last year, the number of people who live in Huntington fell to 48,113.
While the world’s population has more than doubled to +7 billion people over the past 66 years, the city of Huntington’s has been nearly cut in half — a net loss of 38,240 residents.
This incredible exodus of residents has had far reaching affects upon the community in ways few can even begin to imagine: Entire church congregations have vanished away, leaving behind torn pews and broken down altars. Schools have been forced to consolidate. Countless homes and businesses that were once sprawling with life and activity are now desolate — sitting empty, unguarded and without any upkeep, these once trophies of a bustling city are now the bitter reminder of better days and an economy that is on life support at best.
The problems in Huntington are not unique to Appalachian communities, in fact throughout the Southern coalfields of West Virginia – and elsewhere – it is not uncommon to see more than 80% of buildings in some areas to be uninhabitable. However, the city is taking a bold and commendable approach to tackling a problem it refers to as “BAD Buildings” (Blighted, Abandoned and Dilapidated); tearing them down.
“BAD buildings are not just a Huntington problem. We are seeing issues across our state and nation as well. BAD buildings have become havens and easy hiding places for unlawful activities in our neighborhoods. These structures come with a heavy cost for adjacent property owners and first responders who are put in harm’s way each time they respond to a call. The human cost of vacancy is often overlooked. Businesses are hesitant to locate to our wonderful city for these same factors,” says the city’s mayor, Steve Williams.
Williams says there are many reasons as to why a structure may become dilapidated: fire, absentee homeowner/landlord, heirs inheriting property after a family member passes, and the property tax sale, but in the end, he says, “These structures must be taken down for the betterment of our community.”
Monday night, October 23, 2017, the Huntington City Council approved a resolution authorizing the demolition of 55 structures over the next several months.
The vast majority of the buildings approved for demolition are residential structures, however, commercial buildings are also on the list as well.
Though the project may seem like a step backwards for the once thriving city, the reality is that the leaders who have made the bold decision to rid the city of its blighted structures and haven of unlawful activities are showing potential investors, job creators and future residents of their commitment to moving the city forward — which, ironically enough, may begin with a wrecking ball!
Well done Huntington… Rest of Appalachia, take note!
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