Three years ago, Janie Hamilton moved back to her childhood home on Woodland Drive, only to discover the prominent, Colonial-style house next door that once anchored the hilly neighborhood had become a living nightmare.
In the 1960s, she remembers, its previous owners lovingly tended to the home and grew flowers and vegetable gardens in the backyard.
The charming home from Hamilton’s youth has now been vacant for more than a decade. What remains now is a kudzu-covered ghost of Hamilton’s memories. She refers to it as “the jungle…”
…As the home’s physical state worsened, its owner Kenneth Nicholas, a relative of the previous owners, stopped paying property taxes.
Eventually, the property’s liens were auctioned off at a Kanawha County tax sale in 2014 for $2,000.
The lien purchaser, an Atlanta-based limited liability company, took title to the property in April after Nicholas failed to redeem it. It remains to be seen whether the new owners will make improvements to the property.
“I’m here alone, 60 years old, and I’m here fighting a jungle,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton’s story is just one example of West Virginia’s tax lien system and its trickle-down effect across the capital city’s neighborhoods.
Proponents of tax lien sales, which are used in at least 30 states, argue that the process is a tool for cash-strapped local governments to quickly collect on debt. The county receives the amount it’s owed for property taxes immediately after the liens are sold — and it also gets to pass off the burden of collection to a private third party.
Critics argue that the practice perpetuates the cycle of delinquency that frequently accompanies long-vacant, low-value properties because there’s no way to ensure investors will make them safe and habitable.
As Charleston’s Building Commission scrambles to consistently update its vacant building registry — a list of roughly 400 empty, blighted properties in the city — it’s losing the battle of addressing those that have been cycled through the tax lien system.
A Gazette-Mail investigation found that nearly 170 of those vacant properties — more than 40 percent — have gone through the tax lien system at least once in the past decade. Many of these properties are clustered on the West Side flats around Mary C. Snow Elementary, and also in various neighborhoods on the West Side hill…
Read the full story at wvgazettemail.com
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