Durham is boarding up homes without the boards
Posted May 4, 2015
Durham, N.C. — The city of Durham is ditching plywood for plastic when it comes to boarding up vacant homes.
City crews in recent months have installed a clear polycarbonate material on 10 abandoned homes instead of the usual plywood boards that many consider an eyesore.
"It's really unsightly," Toney Spruell said of the plywood that for years covered a vacant home on Simmons Street across from his real estate office.
Durham replaced the plywood with polycarbonate, and Spruell said it was easy to notice the difference.
"I thought they had taken the plywood off, and I thought they were preparing the house to rent because it did look a lot better," he said. "I was thinking they had cleaned it up and everything. The brightness of the shining of the plastic stood out."
Faith Gardner, housing code administrator for Durham's Neighborhood Improvement Services Department, said polycarbonate provides the city a less conspicuous way to secure vacant homes against vandalism and vagrants than plywood.
"Boarding of houses," Gardner said, "just adds to the blight of the community, and you’ll see a downward spiral when you find boarded houses."
The material is virtually indestructible – "You can hit the thing with a baseball bat, and it won’t shatter," she said – and it allows police and code enforcement inspectors to be able to see into the property because it's clear plastic.
Durham requires the owners of abandoned houses to secure the properties, but if they don't comply, city crews will board them up to discourage criminal activity.
"We’ve been focusing on eliminating boarded structures since 2011 as a focus initiative. Having a product we can use that will allow us to have a property be secure and yet not have that boarded look to it is a huge step forward," Gardner said.
The city plans to replace plywood on 18 more houses with polycarbonate in the coming months. All of the houses are in an area that's part of Mayor Bill Bell's poverty-reduction initiative.
The polycarbonate costs about $100 more per window than plywood, officials said.
"We feel like the expense of the material itself is well worth the benefit to the community," Gardner said. "This is a better look and feel to the community than the standard boarded house."
A year after the installation, Durham officials plan to review crime data and to see if the change has resulted in any change in crime reports.