- Associated Press - Monday, August 25, 2014

LAS VEGAS (AP) - North Las Vegas officials are taking a cue from their Rust Belt counterparts and bulldozing abandoned homes that have become magnets for criminal activity, squatters and fires.

Asbestos-removal and demolition began last week on some of the 20 homes slated for removal. City officials said the empty lots will be an improvement over the gutted, boarded-up houses scattered in North Las Vegas’ older neighborhoods.

“Neighbors aren’t looking at that ugly eyesore every day, and the criminals don’t have a place to hang out,” said Greg Blackburn, the city’s director of community development and compliance.

The initiative started out with a list of 10 properties that had together prompted 142 calls for service to police. Each had at least one fire on the property, and some had as many as three, mostly started by squatters who had altered electrical wiring or started campfires in the homes.

The demolition list later doubled in size. Other homes that might have ended up on the roster have since been repaired and brought up to code by the owners after they were informed about the bulldozing project, Blackburn said.

North Las Vegas devoted $400,000 to the project through a federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant, which goes to cities hard-hit by the foreclosure crisis.

The city will place a lien on the empty lots so it can recover the costs of demolition if the properties are sold, Blackburn said. If the owners don’t claim the lots, the city can auction off the land after three years.

The city has demolished homes in the past, but typically one at a time and not in a large, coordinated effort, Blackburn said.

Neighboring Las Vegas took its own steps in February to control blight. Artists painted colorful desert scenes on the plywood of 10 boarded-up homes in an effort funded by the Las Vegas Arts Commission and modeled after a similar project in Cincinnati.

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