The sound of bulldozers

Published 9:32 pm Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hobson activist Mary Hill, owner of a group of dilapidated properties in the historic community, was at the top of her game on Monday, calling the demolition of three of the most unsafe of her properties an injustice.

In fact, “injustice” was the most sensible thing she said during an interview after city crews tore down the three houses. Part of the game for Hill all along has been to ascribe to racism the city’s efforts to force property owners to improve slum-like living conditions in Hobson. Her race-baiting reached a new low on Monday when she told a reporter, “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 statement is shocking in its self-involvement and in the ignorance it reveals of what either genocide or slavery entail.

The city’s — and the Hobson community’s — problems with Ms. Hill go back two or three years, according to city officials, who say she repeatedly has been asked to take care of unsafe, unsanitary conditions in some of the properties she owns there. Code enforcement officials have cited her and some other property owners there for conditions ranging from collapsing roofs to broken windows and doors and more. Some of the structures are more than 100 years old and appear to have had little maintenance during that time, and some even lack running water. Only the least safe of them have been set for demolition, and in each case the property owners have been given ample time to make arrangements for the improvements that would stop the bulldozers’ advance.

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But instead of taking the steps to pay for the improvements that are required — the same as other property owners around the city must do — Ms. Hill has used the years since she began getting code violations to try to force others to pay for the work, claiming that the houses are historically significant simply by virtue of the fact that they’re located in an area that is historically significant.

Hobson was settled in the 1700s by freed slaves who made their living by harvesting nearby oyster beds. None of the structures in question today were around at that time, and few have any direct connection with the people who worked to build their lives in the community then. But Ms. Hill has begged, cajoled and even threatened just about anyone with any potential influence in an effort to get someone else to fix her properties, and she continues to use her heritage as a cynical means to that end.

But the bulldozers got the last word on Monday — at least regarding three of her and her family’s properties. And she’ll rightly get the bill for the city’s work. There’s no conspiracy, as she would like to make folks believe, just a set of laws that apply equally to Ms. Hill and other recalcitrant property owners as they do to everyone else in the city, regardless of color.

Someone with Ms. Hill’s energy and vision could be a tremendous force for good in the community. But if she insists on continuing her outrageous, unsubstantiated, unsupportable accusations against the city — and especially if she continues to refuse to bring her properties into compliance with the law — the bulldozers should continue to make the city’s response.