America's population drain from its small towns to her big cities offers a host of headaches for the leaders remaining in those shrinking communities, one of which is empty housing left to time and the elements to deteriorate. But the City of Princeton is stepping up to reverse the blight, or at least slow the decay.
The Princeton City Council has allocated $100,000 in the current fiscal year to address nuisance housing, working with owners to see that properties get cleaned up. And the city is prepared to do what it takes to get the job done, even if it means doing the work itself.
Mayor Kota Young said one of the biggest sources of dilapidated homes in the city is absentee owners. That may be family members from out of town who were left a property from a deceased relative or former residents who may have moved away and abandoned a home.
"It's going to happen in any town that's lost a thousand people over the last 30 years," Young said. "Unfortunately, those people didn't take their homes with them."
In 1990, Princeton's population was right at 7,000. Today, U.S. Census Bureau estimates put that number at just more than 6,100. In western Kentucky, only a handful of cities and towns have seen their population grow over that period, as the state's residents have migrated toward its population centers in the Golden Triangle of Lexington, Louisville and northern Kentucky.
This week, two adjacent dilapidated houses on North Franklin Street in Princeton were razed. The city obtained the properties through a lengthy process, one in which homeowners may hand over the homes to municipal government to satisfy a lien placed on the property through code enforcement. That allows the city to clear the land and sell it, ideally to developers who will build new housing stock.
"It's a ripple effect," Young said. "New housing can affect neighborhoods in a positive way just as nuisance properties can the opposite way."
Four more homes are slated for removal in coming weeks, as weather allows. Those are located on North Plum, Darby and Cox streets and Baldwin Avenue. More will be on the way, as Code Enforcement Officer Richard "Dickie" Thomas carries out the city council's initiative to clean up Princeton.
Young, in his first year as mayor, said clearing a lot of a crumbling home may cost anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000, with additional expense tied to the legal process to get to that point. He believes the $100,000 can amount to about 20 lots being cleaned up this year. He hopes the council will continue to allocate enough money to address about the same number each year of his remaining term in office.
"We're trying to clean up Princeton one house at a time, one street at a time," he said.