Belleville woman gives emotional appeal to save home from demolition
Melinda Harris wants to save her Belleville home from demolition.
But she faces a daunting task to resurrect the 600 Wabash Ave. house called an “eyesore” by neighbors and condemned by the city.
Harris said she doesn’t have any more money after giving at least $30,000 to two contractors to fix the home’s roof. She said the first contractor died last summer and the second one hasn’t returned to the job.
“I’m just here on my own, doing this by myself,” Harris says as she breaks down in tears at the conclusion of a YouTube video in which she describes her plight.
“They condemned my home. I don’t have anywhere to go,” Harris said in the video. “I don’t have any more money to finish this work.”
The city filed a lawsuit in March to get a court order to tear down the home, and a trial is now set for Jan. 8. Roof trusses on the home have been exposed to the weather for months, and in October, the city said no one could live in the home.
They condemned my home. I don’t have anywhere to go. I don’t have any more money to finish this work.
The home “is dangerous because it is structurally unsafe, damaged and dilapidated, and dangerous to the neighborhood,” according to the lawsuit filed by Assistant City Attorney Brian Flynn.
The city’s building commissioner has “determined the building to be deteriorated and so weakened that it is dangerous and was declared to be a public nuisance and is beyond reasonable repair,” the lawsuit states.
“The justice system kind of failed the neighborhood, sadly, because we tried to give a person, a homeowner, a lot of leniency when they say they want to fix their house, and that’s our goal too,” said Ward 7 Alderman Phil Elmore. “But at some point, you have to say two years and the lack of completion is enough to say, ‘Enough is enough.’
“I’m not a builder, but I’ve been in insurance for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” Elmore said. “And it’s not just the next-door neighborhood anymore. The whole neighborhood is being affected.”
Rebecca Bollinger, who lives off McClintock Avenue near Harris’ home and owns a rental home on Wabash Avenue, describes the house as “an unfortunate eyesore for our community.”
On Monday, Circuit Judge Stephen McGlynn told the city to give Harris another chance to fix the exposed roof trusses on her home before the trial date.
Although she was granted the time to fix the problems cited by city inspectors, Harris said she can’t get the second contractor to resume work, and she is out of money.
Along with the lawsuit, Harris faces a citation filed by the city on April 10. The ticket alleges she was working on her home without a building permit. A trial is scheduled for Dec. 14 for the ticket.
I’m not a builder, but I’ve been in insurance for 30 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this.
Phil Elmore, Ward 7 alderman
“All I ever tried to do was put a new roof on. That was it, just to fix up my house. That’s all I was doing,” she said in the YouTube video. “I can use all the help that I can get, please.”
Harris’ attorney, Mark Peebles, of Belleville, said if Harris is not able to fix the home by Jan. 8 and have it approved by city inspectors, McGlynn would likely allow the city to raze the building.
“I understand and she understands that that’s kind of an eyesore in its current state,” Peebles said.
“She wants to get it fixed,” Peebles said. “That’s a home she’s trying to salvage.”
Harris said her initial plan was to get the roof replaced. She also wanted the contractor to build a “cathedral style” roof and she wanted him to raise the ceiling in the kitchen.
While Elmore believes Harris has had two years to get the problem fixed and that the city has been given her the time to repair the home, Harris criticized the city’s actions.
“They are trying to tear my house down,” she said in the video. “They treat me like I’m a prisoner.”