Lakeland buys homes filled with trash, plans on refurbishing for affordable housing

LAKELAND, Fla. — It’s a major clean up effort for the city of Lakeland, after a troubled neighborhood racked up more than $250,000 in code violations and fines.

City leaders were forced to take over the property after the fines got out of hand, without any sign of the money being paid or the violations fixed.

Looking in at the abandoned home, from the hot cement that runs along N. Vermont Avenue, you wonder who has lived there, what has happened inside or even how it became so unsightly.

All five homes, now owned by the city are hard to distinguish from each other.

If it wasn’t for house numbers or location, they all may look the same.

Some are boarded up, others’ yards are unkept or trash is thrown about.

An eerie feeling comes over you as you get closer to the homes; almost as if someone is watching you or the insecure feeling of what you may step on, or in.

Every five minutes, someone is either walking done N. Vermont without any belongings, or riding their bike giving you the side-eye. 

Carla McDougal has only live on N. Vermont Avenue for a few months, but keep her one-year-old grandchildren close to her when they are outside.

“The police are constantly up-and-down the street,” McDougal said.

N. Vermont’s reputation precedes itself, for not being the safest area to live in, in Lakeland.

“A lot of different people, homeless people walking,” she said.

Carla McDougal is too sweet to say it, but she hints that there is drug activity along the street, much of which roams around the neighborhood, just a half a mile from Lakeland’s downtown-core.

ABC Action News visited city hall to talk with the Community Redevelopment Agency, which now owns the five blighted properties.

“They are bad,” Nicole Travis said.

Travis is with the CRA repeated to us that the homes were in tough shape more than once.

Two feet of trash inside the homes, six dumpsters and days later, and the homes are still hard to look at. Volunteers have been cleaning out the homes, where all sorts of drug paraphernalia was found. 

When we visited the homes on Monday, there were jugs of chemicals in the back. It was unknown whether that was left from the city, or from visitors preceding them.

In front of the property, now stand tall ‘no trespassing’ signs that threaten prosecution if you enter the premises. 

Pictures of the insides show the homes were so far gone, the city had no option but to buy the homes, which they did for more than $46,000. With that amount the city forgave the liens worth $250,000 and gave ownership over to the CRA for redevelopment. 

“When you go in there and see the conditions and see the amount of needles, there was no doubt that there was drug activity happening in those homes,” Travis said.

Travis says they are working on cleaning up the neighborhoods in more ways than one.

“It will probably be better for the community because it’s not abandoned houses anymore, it’ll just be homes for people to live in,” McDougal said, as she hugged her grandkids tight. 

The CRA says the homes will likely be remodeled and used for affordable housing.

First the homes have to be assessed.

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