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Number of vacant buildings on the decline in Charleston, but hundreds remain

Published: Jul. 2, 2021 at 3:06 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 2, 2021 at 7:37 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Despite Charleston’s booming real estate market, there are still hundreds of buildings in the city that sit abandoned and in various states of decay.

That number has dropped in recent years from 257 in mid-2019 to 205 today, but while the city is trying to crack down, in some ways they say their hands are tied.

Two years ago, city officials looked into creating a task force to impose stricter penalties on property owners, but current ordinances and laws are already as strict as they can be under state law.

There are generally two types of property owners who own these abandoned buildings, Dan Riccio, the city’s director of livability and tourism, explained: developers who let them sit until the buildings collapse so they can build something new, which they wouldn’t be allowed to do if a historic building was still standing; and those who don’t have the financial ability or may have disagreements among family members with what to do with the property.

“Our goal is to possibly impose civil fines on the willful owners that are purposely allowing the property to deteriorate and somehow be deflected or accessible by the non-willful impoverished property owners to restore and rehabilitate their properties,” Riccio said.

The city’s booming real estate market has likely helped motivate owners to bring these properties back to a livable state, he said.

Damon Wright has lived next to an abandoned home on Hagood Street for six and a half years.

“Sometimes you have homeless people that come around and sleep inside. It can be sometimes a den for drug addicts (to) come in and get high,” he said. “I don’t fault people for doing what they have to do but I just wish that the city would do something about it.”

Wright said while he’d like to see the neighborhood cleaned up, he doesn’t want to see current residents forced out of the area because of gentrification.

“It would be nice if the city took some initiative to offer these people some sort of grant or stimulus,” he said. “I’m not looking for a handout but just something that would enable these people to fix up their property, maybe a tax break or something so they can put the money back into the neighborhood.”

While there are state grants property owners could apply for, there is not a similar program at the city level.

Another option the city has, Riccio said, is partnering with the state or county to create tax incentives to bring them back up to a livable state.

“That is a goal for us as an incentive to have a lot of these properties rehabilitated,” he said.

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