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City officials make an effort to fight blight

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Building and code enforcement officer Lessie Fisher posts a notice of condemnation at 304 North Main St. Fisher is working to have blighted properties repaired or demolished. Photos by Echo Day

At first glance they don't look so bad, just a few houses that need new paint and maybe a new roof, but a closer look reveals a bigger problem plaguing Covington: properties in such bad shape, they're at risk of being torn down by the city.
Take North Main Street, for instance.
Once an affluent African-American neighborhood, the 1/3-mile road that leads between the historic court square and Highway 51 is now home to at least a dozen properties that are either vacant or appear to be vacant.
Three of these properties – former residences that have been condemned – are on the city's priority list for demolition.
"I'm not going to say they necessarily need to be torn down," said Sheila White, who lives between two of the properties, "but they make the street look bad. It is Main Street."
In the shadow of the court square, renovated in the last eight years and recently dressed in pink cherry blossoms, there's the row of businesses across from The Studio and the farmers market, that have seen better days.
The fish market operates out of one business, but the others are vacant.
The Main Event, at the corner of North Main and Spring, has been padlocked for quite some time.
There's the tall brick building with stained glass windows that towers above North Main from a hill; there are boarded windows on its side.
There are two properties just north of it, 304 and 308 North Main, that look like they were once residences of people proud to live in them.
The roof of the house at 304 North Main, originally built in 1938, looks as if it melted right off of the house. It is littered inside and out with debris, home furnishings; a curtain still hangs in a back window.
Henry L. Porter of Mason purchased the property, formerly owned by G.R. Smith and R.S. Maley,  for $400 in July 1917 and records indicate his daughters Ernestine Norfolk and Noreen Swan, who is still listed as the property owner, inherited it in 1961 when he died.
Next door, things aren't much better. At 308 North Main, the porch steps have rotted and fallen away. Paint is peeling away from the siding in sheets. Full sheets of plywood have been nailed to cover windows. From the gable roof over the rotted porch, a metal address sign still hangs delicately by only one hook.
The property was purchased from Harriet Malone, who also owned the property next door, by James Harris Porter in 1934 and has been in the family since.
It is currently listed as being owned by Katie V. Porter and Jocelyn Berry.
The owner of an adjacent property said he has a hard time renting a new brick home because of the eyesores.
"It doesn't give potential tenants, especially those with children, a comfortable home feeling to see blighted houses next door," he said.
Both dwellings, as well as one at 502 North Main listed as being owned by Alma Edwards and Michael Edwards, the late mother and brother of alderman John E. Edwards, have been listed as being in need of "minor repairs," according to property assessment data, but Lessie Fisher said they need more than that.
In a meeting earlier this month, Fisher, who works in the city's planning and building division, said these properties, as well as 13 others, need immediate attention.  
Now condemned, in addition to being eyesores, the properties have become home to pests, feral cats, stray dogs and crime.
"These are the ones that have come to such a shape that they are very hazardous to the general public," she said. "We want these taken care of to assist the police and fire departments because it will help remove the illegal activity. People will get in these homes and start fires and use drugs."
Fisher is asking property owners to repair and renovate the structures, to make them once again habitable, or to demolish and remove them.
"Each of these properties has had multiple notices placed on them," Fisher said. "A couple of the (owners) said, 'I'm gonna get to it, I'm gonna get to it …' Well, the building has gotten in such a shape that we need to have it addressed now."
If not done within the time frame she's given, Fisher has asked to use the city's community development funds to demolish them. If this is done, a lien will be placed on the property in an attempt to collect the money the city will spend.
Though the properties are eyesores, Fisher said the battle against run-down properties is an on-going one, but it's one she's willing to fight in the name of public safety.
"Hopefully we get things into better shape. We really just want to have responsible owners maintaining their properties."

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