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Mercer hosts conference focusing on blighted houses | News

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Mercer hosts conference focusing on blighted houses

Blighted houses are a big problem in Macon-Bibb... one that the county plans to address.

The Sunlight Foundation and Center for Collaborative Journalism are organizing an unstructured conference at Mercer University, or an "unconference," as they call it.

Advocates, technologists, policy makers are gathering from all over the country to discuss issues and questions posed by participants. The goal is to build awareness and spur change in regard to blighted abandoned homes.

Officials will analyze housing data, including property value and history of ownership, to see if there are particular patterns that will help tackle the blight issue.

One does not have to look too far to find evidence of blight. The peeled paint, broken windows, and overgrown lawns are all small indicators of a big problem.

"There are a lot of houses that have been abandoned due to the housing crisis and general economic problems," says Center for Collaborative Journalism director, Tim Regan-Porter. "If we are going to come out of that strong, we need to clean up those issues."

The impetus behind taking on the issue of blighted homes aggressively came from a series of surveys and town hall meetings that ask people that live in Macon what they think of their city.

"One of the things that came up over and over again that we weren't necessarily expecting was blight," says Regan-Porter. "The city feels dirty, things are unkempt, there's falling down houses and unsafe neighborhoods, just structurally. So we decided that that should be our big community project for this year."

One of those people is Gloria Savage, who lives in a neighborhood surrounded by blighted homes.

"It's time to clean up this mess around here," she says. "These houses need to be fixed or torn down."

Savage explains that since the houses across the street and next door were left dilapidated, she has had problems with mice and homeless people or drug dealers settling in the properties.

"Get this cleaned up and I think we could have a safe place," says Savage. "Because right now it's just not safe."

Blighted houses can contribute to decreased property value and an increase in crime. At the conference they plan to speak with other city developers to see what can be done here in Macon. This may mean refurbishing some of the houses or tearing them down and starting new.

A face-lift may also boost tourism, according to the executive director of the Historic Macon Foundation, Ethiel Garlington.

"Macon is ripe for tourism with our proximity to the interstates," he says. "But I can assure you, people don't want to come to Macon to see vacant lots and empty land. They want to come and see our historic architecture that we are nationally known for."

The conference will be from 9 a.m to 3 p.m. on Thursday and Friday at Mercer University's Science and Engineering building.

You can purchase tickets from the conference's website.


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