One house sits vacant with boarded-up windows, knee-high weeds and no front door. Another house was half-burned years ago and its owner lives in a trailer in the back yard.
These two houses on a Maricopa County island near Taft Elementary School in east Mesa have angered residents for more than five years. Residents say the houses are unsightly and raise safety issues with young children living in the area.
Mesa United Way President Carol McCormack has worked with the neighborhood and the school for several years, funding outreach programs at the school and helping the neighborhood paint houses and haul away trash. However, these two houses have been the weight holding the neighborhood down.
"This neighborhood I’m sure was cute as a bug at one time," McCormack said. "It’s just hard to battle with cleaning up the neighborhood when some of the houses are so far gone."
McCormack said residents have tried for years to get the county to clean up the two houses.
Ed Kuhlt owns the three-quarter acre lot with the burned, gutted house — with broken windows and no roof — in the 400 block of North 97th Place. Kuhlt said the fire burned his house five years ago, and because of personal and financial reasons he has been unable to rebuild.
Kuhlt said he has been slowly tearing the house down himself the past three weeks and wants to rebuild if he can get a second mortgage. A large trash bin sits on the side of his lot and is partially full.
"I’m definitely making a positive effort here," said Kuhlt, who has owned the property for 14 years.
The former construction worker is unemployed and has lived in a trailer behind the house with his girlfriend for about a month, he said.
Kitty-corner to Kuhlt’s back yard is the vacant home on North 98th Street. "No trespassing" is spray painted on one of the boarded-up windows. A lone mattress is on the floor of the front room, and pieces of drywall litter the ground below gouged-out walls and ceilings. Graffiti has been sprayed throughout the small, two-bedroom house.
A mattress is on the ground in the back yard amid high grass and next to a brick barbecue grill. A little house in the back yard also has a soiled mattress on the ground and is heavily littered with trash.
Doris Lytle lives across the street and said she would like to see something done about the vacant house.
The 68-year-old said she frequently sees transients living in the home. She can see them at night from the "glow of their cigarettes" and said it’s a safety issue for her young granddaughters.
"We don’t like the way it looks, but mostly we don’t like the yucky-looking guys we see there," said Lytle, who has lived in the same house since 1973.
Lytle said she signed a petition circulated a couple of years ago by neighbors to do something about the house.
"Everyone signed it to have something done about the mess, but nothing ever came of it," Lytle said. "We would like something done with it because it’s just an awful eyesore."
Darren Gerard, deputy county planning director for Maricopa County, instructed code enforcement to investigate the properties and check for violations.
He said complaints on properties need to be submitted in writing to the Maricopa County Planning and Development Department’s Code Enforcement Division. County officials will determine whether the properties violate an abatement ordinance or pose a threat to public safety.
It may be ugly, but it’s not necessarily a code violation, he said. "We’ll have somebody out there."
Larry Graham just sold a three-bedroom, two-bathroom house for $119,000 on North 98th Street, down the street from the vacant home. He painted the house, put on a new roof and did a "onceover" on the house.
Graham buys run-down houses, fixes them up and sells them around the Valley. He is interested in buying any of the houses in the area to fix them up, but hasn’t been able to reach the owner of the vacant house.
"It actually is a great neighborhood," said Graham, who calls himself a property enhancer/investor. "The neighbors are all nice. Unfortunately, you have some people that don’t want to participate."
Complaints of dilapidation on county islands should be mailed to the Maricopa County Planning and Development Department, Code Enforcement Division, 411 N. Central Ave., No. 300, Phoenix, AZ 85004-2191. Other complaints should be directed to your city or town’s code compliance office.