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'Next thing I know, the house is on fire': Macon family in hotel after blaze as county unveils project to fight blight

Arthur Hall says he reported a blighted house to the county a month before it caught fire. It was on the blight demolition list, but the house burned too soon.

MACON, Ga. — Arthur Hall and his family love their Lilly Avenue neighborhood.

"We're comfortable here," Hall said. "Most of the people here are in our age bracket, and the ones who aren't in our age bracket give us a lot of respect."

Hall says the house next door was always a problem.

"Kids in there doing illegal things," he said. "The next thing I know, the house is on fire."

The house caught fire on June 7 and burned part of his house. It damaged the electricity and forced his family into a hotel.

"We tried to find somewhere else to go, but in this day and age, they're going up on houses and rent so much," Hall said.

Code Enforcement Director JT Ricketson says the house next door was on list 9 for blighted house demolition. They're currently on lists 3, 4, and 5.

"I'm the only one that's gonna get hurt in this deal and I did what I can to tell them about it months ago," Hall said.

Now, Macon-Bibb County has a new program aimed at stopping blight before it becomes a problem. The county will partner with the Centre for Public Impact and Georgetown Beeck Center, joining The Opportunity Project. The project works with international companies like Google to improve cities nationwide. Macon-Bibb will use it to track blight as it progresses.

"Blight is such an integral part of what breaks down a community," said Tedra Huston.

Huston is with the Community Enhancement Authority. She says the project is a computer mapping program. Huston says blight can be dangerous, but it goes beyond that. She says it can affect home values.

"If I live on a street and I'm taking great care of my house, but all the houses down the street have been burnt down, have absentee landlords, people running in and out performing criminal activity, it doesn't matter what I do to my house," she said. "It's not going to change the property value of my home. It's just going to keep plummeting."

Huston says the program is vital to helping communities feel empowered. The next step is going into Pleasant Hill to talk with neighbors about problems they see with blight.

Huston says once they have a good blueprint set up in Pleasant Hill, they'll expand it to the rest of the county. Right now, they're working to set up focus groups with different age groups.

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