What's Up With That? Effort to find new homes for houses leaves them on blocks

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

What is going on with the old, boarded-up houses that were moved to land in the 3000 block of Northeast 172nd Avenue? There are multiple homes that were moved to this location and they are all sitting on blocks with boarded-up windows and doors. Has this property become an old home dumping ground?

— Diana Grace

Ready for a shaggy dog story? Tom Cox wasn't -- but he's caught in what appears to be the shaggy doghouse.

Cox, 58, grew up on family acreage on Northeast 172nd Avenue. He's operated a greenhouse business here since the early 1970s.

In 2010 Matt Burton, proprietor of a business called Homes Worth Keeping (HWK), approached Cox about storing some aging homes on his property. The homes would be moved from the vicinity of what's now called PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center — that is, the big hospital on East Mill Plain Boulevard.

The hospital has long wanted to clear its surroundings for future expansions. The hospital's real estate company hired Burton and HWK to move 60 nearby homes to new infill sites. The idea was, these homes would make great low-income housing for people in need "rather than send tons of material to the landfill," according to hospital spokesman Ken Cole.

It didn't happen.

Burton eventually approached Cox because his 172nd Avenue acreage was a convenient spot to park the houses temporarily. Cox agreed to collect $1,000 per month in rent. Clark County approved a temporary storage permit that was extendable until this month.

"It sounded like I could be part of a good thing," Cox said. But the outcome wasn't good. Battles broke out between players. Several The Columbian spoke to all fingered Burton and HWK as not following through on commitments. The hospital discovered that "HWK was not properly licensed as a contractor in the state," Cole said. A subcontractor sued both HWK and the hospital; the matter was settled out of court and the hospital severed its relationship with HWK.

All of which leaves Cox babysitting 11 of the 15 original homes that Burton moved to his land. Cox said subcontractors Chris Arsenault and Stephen Long have both been diligent about finding buyers; a couple of parties come by every week to take a look, he said -- but financing for moving the homes and for destination land remains prohibitive.

Cox said he has not heard from Burton since last summer. When The Columbian contacted him, Burton said he'd been advised not to work with Cox; as of last year, he said, most of the houses had been deeded to the Cox Family Trustees -- which essentially means Cox's aging mother and her attorney.

"That is absolutely false," Cox said. He said he is considering his options, including a lawsuit against Burton and HWK.

Meanwhile, a contract with a rental fence company has ended, and the fence that used to secure the homes was removed this month from Cox's property with no notice to him. He said he expects to hear from Clark County code enforcement about the missing fence and the 11 now-unsecured houses still sitting on the property.

While Burton will be named on any violation notices, county code enforcement coordinator Kevin Pridemore said it is "ultimately the property owner's responsibility to ensure compliance on all code related issues on their property."

"I'm hoping for some consideration from the county," said Cox. "But I doubt there'll be any."

Stay tuned.

— Scott Hewitt