Hobson demolitions begin

Published 9:33 pm Monday, March 28, 2011

An excavator tears apart houses on Sawmill Point Road in the Hobson neighborhood on Monday morning. The homes were torn down after multiple building code violations were not resolved.

Construction equipment climbed over piles of rubble in the Hobson neighborhood Monday morning with plenty of neighbors gathered on the street.

A round of demolitions of deteriorated buildings in the community off Crittenden Road began early Monday. Three homes were bulldozed, city spokeswoman Debbie George said.

“The city’s doing what they said they were going to do,” said John Thrower, a neighbor of two of the demolished properties. “It’s just a sad situation.”

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On Monday, clothes and children’s toys flew in the path of an excavator tearing apart the homes at 1765 and 1769 Sawmill Point Road, both owned by Mary Hill. Her mother, Marie Hill, owns the home at 8345 Hudgins Circle, which was also torn down. A city community development staff member watched from nearby.

Mary Hill said she had no idea the homes would be demolished Monday.

“I do not think they should be tearing the houses down,” Hill said.

Hobson, located off Crittenden Road between Sandy Bottom and Governors Pointe, was founded in the 1700s by freed slaves who made their living by harvesting the oysters from the nearby riverbeds.

Some of the homes in the community are more than 100 years old. Some even lack running water and toilet facilities.

The condition of the demolished properties has been deteriorating for years while the owners tried to access grants to improve their private properties.

When that failed, they sued the city in federal court over demolitions scheduled for Aug. 31, claiming that the planned razing was “discriminatory” and the plaintiffs were denied federal funding for “renovation or preservation” of their property.

A federal judge dismissed that lawsuit in January, but Hill said an appeal is in the works and thought that meant the city would again delay the demolitions.

“For them to do this is an injustice,” she said. “This, to me, is another form of genocide, of eradicating a historic black community. I feel like we’re being treated like a bunch of slaves.”

“The three properties in Hobson were demolished because they had become unsafe,” city spokeswoman Debbie George said. “These vacant structures have been under enforcement action for two to three years.”

George added that demolition only occurs as a last resort, and the city seeks voluntary compliance with building codes before demolishing a structure.

Hill contends the city has an ulterior motive for tearing the houses down.

“It seems like they’re deliberately allowing the properties to become dilapidated so they can use this strong-arm and abuse and coercion to destroy us,” she said. “Now, the demolition bill is going to be tacked onto the property tax assessment. The agenda is to hope that they can’t pay for it and then put the property up for auction.”

Hill says the houses torn down Monday were “not about to collapse and fall on someone.”

Neighbor John Thrower says he has seen foxes and other animals take up residence in Mary Hill’s two homes next door to his.

“You can see the animals going in and out,” he said. “It’s just sad.”

Hill says her mother just had a stroke and does not yet know about the demolitions.

“If they come out here and tear that house down, it’s going to kill her,” Hill said through tears. “This is just another public cry to my Mayor [Linda] Johnson and the representatives that represent us. This is not the way you treat family.”