Tearing down isn’t only answer, build up too

Two women are dead, and although their identities and how they came to die are not yet public information, we expect that this tragedy will only become greater as the investigation reveals facts and they are taken to the public.

But it should be remembered that just because East Lumberton was the scene of those grisly finds last week, does not mean that part of Old Lumberton is the only area that suffers disproportionately from prostitution and crime that finds a nest in dilapidated structures.

City officials and those who have the greatest interest in these ailing parts of our broader community need to take this opportunity to grab the same end of the rope and work together to not only weed out the bad, but — and this might be the most important part — nourish that which can be rehabilitated.

The 505 Peachtree St. property is poised to become a symbol of what can be.

It is owned by Woodberry Bowen, a lawyer and civic leader, who is saying all the right things, that he is willing to work with city officials to decide that property’s future. He had begun refurbishing the property before Matthew blew in, dumped on us all and other priorities stepped forward.

In the wake of that hurricane, the city has a shortage of affordable and available rental properties, which is why many who were displaced have either fled for higher ground or remain stuck in hotels. It seems to us that resources should be pooled to identify properties that can be rehabilitated, and that they could be used as new homes for those who remain homeless.

We know that is easier said than done.

We worry that city officials, whose priorities are forever fluid, will not be able to remain focused on the work that needs to be done, and that is either putting dilapidated and abandoned structures back to work for the community, or knocking them down and cleaning up the remnants.

Perhaps what is needed is a task force, one that includes city officials, staff and council members, as well as affected and motivated members of the public to sit down at the same table and to begin a conversation on what needs to be done. We believe that public money in the form of loans and grants could be pursued to help defray the cost of rehabilitating some of these structures, and then getting displaced residents back into them. In some instances, that would mean a return to their old neighborhood.

Bowen suggested to us that if the city moved more quickly to foreclose on properties whose owners have quit paying property taxes, then they could be auctioned off before they are in a total state of disrepair, to either investors or those looking for a fixer-upper to call home. We know there is another side of this coin, but it makes a lot of sense.

Stricter law enforcement is obviously a part of the fix, but that always strains already limited resources. The best way to rehabilitate neighborhoods is to make them attractive places for families to want to live, people who take pride in their community and will work to enhance it and protect it.

It took the loss of two lives to shine a bright light on a problem that isn’t unique to East Lumberton. Let’s see what can be.

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