Abandoned and dilapidated properties are a problem for almost every community in West Virginia. Statistics compiled by the Coalfield Development Corporation last year reveal there are over 500 derelict buildings in McDowell County, 180 discarded residences in Beckley, and in the last ten years, over 400 neglected structures have been demolished in Clarksburg alone. These numbers are astonishing! Most communities realize the abandoned and dilapidated properties cause a slippery slope to reduced property values and tax base, increased crime and drug activity, significant environmental, health, and safety hazards, and more. Towns and cities all over West Virginia are feeling the effects of a dwindling population and do not know how to handle it.
Last year, a group of nonprofit organizations – WV Community Development Hub, WV Brownfields Assistance Center, Coalfield Development Corporation, the Municipal League, and multiple individual communities – joined together as partners to form the Abandoned Properties Coalition (APC). The APC’s goal is to address this pervasive problem plaguing much of West Virginia on a statewide basis rather than on a case-by-case one. The APC is working with state legislators to pass specific legislation to address this problem and working together to remove arbitrary hurdles that make counteracting the epidemic abandoned properties more difficult. The goals of this initiative are to pull together stakeholders wanting to offset the negative effects of abandoned properties and be a unified voice (support organizations plus local municipalities) offering solutions that will have on-the-ground impacts in these communities. This can be achieved by dispersing information and educating communities with abandoned properties, and collaborating with legislators focused on improving policy. These partners realize that communities and legislators need many tools to effectively manage the situation. These tools should not be limited to demolition, the go-to for many town leaders, but also preservation, deconstruction, and adaptive re-use.
PAWV joined the APC to bring our expertise in preservation and adaptive re-use of discarded historic properties. This partnership can build upon PAWV’s own statewide initiative, the West Virginia Endangered Properties Program, which works with communities to build support for and brings new life to neglected historic properties. Moreover, PAWV plans to advocate against any impending demolitions of National Register properties by reaching out to the WV State Historic Preservation Office, Certified Local Governments, and Landmarks Commissions.
It is our belief that the preservation and re-use of our historic built environment are essential tools to prevent the perpetuating problems initiated by decaying structures and derelict properties. Preservation can reinvigorate a sense of community, and it is proven to increase property values and the tax base. As your statewide advocate for historic preservation, PAWV, in partnership with the APC, promises to continue our efforts to preserve and protect West Virginia’s heritage.