Homes razed in North Las Vegas neighborhood

North Las Vegas bulldozers rumbled onto Balzar Avenue long before breakfast Aug. 19, crunching concrete, busting up wood beams and making more than enough noise to wake the neighbors.

Nearby Hassel Avenue resident Gary Brown didn’t mind the early morning wake-up call.

He and others hope the dozers — there to raze 20 vacant, arson-plagued homes across several of the city’s most blighted residential blocks — will eventually help wake the whole North Valley neighborhood from its decades-long slumber.

“It’s a start,” Brown said Tuesday. “As a person who has been in the neighborhood, I can tell you — everyone pays every time one of these (homes) burns down.

“When that happens, it sends the message that this is a neighborhood no one cares about. … So I’m glad it’s starting to change. I’m kind of in ‘hurry-up-and-wait’ mode right now.”

City code enforcement officials, backed by $400,000 in federal anti-blight funds, have so far knocked over a pair of homes in and around Brown’s residence. They plan to raze three other abandoned properties in the neighborhood over the next several weeks, part of what officials are calling the largest coordinated demolition effort in North Las Vegas history.

Visits to board up North Valley’s abandoned houses have accounted for a sizable chunk of code compliance officers’ call volume in recent years, leading to the hiring of the city’s only area-specific officer in early 2012.

City firefighters have responded to at least one and as many as three fires at each of the homes set for demolition. Police officers have responded to 142 calls for service at the properties, including one in which a city patrol officer shot and killed a homeless man in March.

Those figures come as no surprise to Brown, a lifelong North Valley resident who has likened his neighborhood’s decline to the decay of similarly blighted housing tracts in Detroit.

The neighborhood Brown grew up in the 1960s was once part of West Las Vegas, home to hundreds of middle class black families redlined into what was then Las Vegas’ westernmost frontier.

Today, the half-mile of homes between Carey Avenue and West Lake Mead Boulevard on the north and south and Simmons Street and North Martin Luther King Boulevard on the west and east — known to some residents as North Valley and to others as the 40 Block — has become a magnet for crime, arson and drug dealing — thanks in no small part to the dozens of abandoned homes city officials started leveling late this month.

Neighborhood activists and community leaders estimate North Valley is comprised of around 1,100 homes. Most of those homes were built in the 1950s and 1960s and up to a quarter house someone living below the poverty line.

Brown estimates that up to 40 percent of the homes he grew up around now sit vacant.

He has spent years pressing code enforcement officials to knock over at least some, if not all, of those properties.

Someday, he hopes to see community gardens crop up in their place.

For now — with newly empty lots popping up along the curbside like missing teeth — he would happily settle for a fence.

“If one car is stripped down in one of these lots, that’ll become the zone to do that whenever someone steals a car,” Brown said. “If it’s just an empty lot, it’s going to become a no-man’s land.

“Just put up a six-foot fence around it until they develop it.”

City code compliance officials say they can’t afford to fence around each of the properties scheduled for demolition in the coming weeks, though Community Development and Compliance Director Greg Blackburn said his staffers plan to “keep an eye” on the properties.

They also plan to place liens on the lots in an attempt to recover demolition costs if and when the properties are sold.

Property owners who settle fines with the code compliance department will be given three months to fix up their homes before officials return with a wrecking ball.

Blackburn, who led efforts to secure a federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant needed to knock over the vacant homes, had asked for $1 million to take on the city’s blighted homes in November 2013.

He blamed bureaucratic hurdles for the nine-month delay in receiving a portion of those funds, dollars federal Housing and Urban Development officials have doled out to dozens of municipalities hardest-hit by the Great Recession.

After years spent looking for a way to fire up the bulldozers, Blackburn and North Valley residents agree they’ll take what they can get.

“We had no idea how laborious the (federal grant) process was going to be,” he said. “It has been a long time coming. … We work on a lot of things, but this is especially rewarding.”

Contact James DeHaven atjdehaven@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3839. Fnd him on Twitter: @JamesDeHaven.

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