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Durham is boarding up homes without the boards

Posted May 4, 2015

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— 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.

6 Comments

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  • Noel Jones May 5, 2015
    user avatar

    Read again Anne, it's not a window, but a window cover. Ultimately, make the landlords keep up their rental units or fine them. It's not our responsibility to pay for the circumventing the rule of thumb, for those who can afford to use already bankrolled monies collected from these same properties. How ironic those that enrich themselves complain about entitlement, when quid pro quo delivers the same to themselves.

  • Anne Havisham May 5, 2015
    user avatar

    I agree that $100 more for a window is a sizable expense, but they may be reusable, and may not need replacement as frequently as wooden boards. And if it reduces the necessity for police calls, then it may actually save money over time.

  • Noel Jones May 5, 2015
    user avatar

    100 dollars more per window? Are you kidding? For a community that's going down the tube anyway?

    I'd like to know, who the vendor is that's selling this product for this much. Surely the city can buy direct and eliminate the "good ole boy" relationship.

    I'd like to know the relationship between these landlords and the town's board. This is costing the taxpayers 1000 dollars or more per house. To add insult to injury, it's for a landlord who's refusal to own up, means the city will pay for it.

    In my endeavors, all landlords have quid pro quo relationships with the people who make the rules, in townhall. Now this is something to march on townhall about.

  • Chris Vet May 5, 2015
    user avatar

    View quoted thread



    ...yeah-- and who would pay for and maintain these homes and utilities for people that can't afford to rent or purchase them?

  • Sammy Macloud May 5, 2015
    user avatar

    Great idea! Too bad so many houses are empty what with all the homeless in the area......

  • Linda Schmidt May 4, 2015
    user avatar

    Fantastic!