Arson cases rising in Southeast Roanoke

By Rob Manch - Reporter
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ROANOKE (WSLS 10) - People living in Southeast Roanoke are calling for the city to take action after six cases of arson this year in vacant properties.

The most recent case happened Thanksgiving night in a house on 12th Street.

Now, we're hearing from people who say that fire is just part of a growing trend.

People living in Southeast it's full of houses being rented, and in several cases the owners have let the properties fall into disrepair.

The area saw an increase in arson cases this year in those properties, and nearby neighbors say it's hurting everyone.

Terry Huxhold, the President of the Southeast Action Forum, says the house on 12th Street, that saw fire trucks in front of it three times this year, is just the tip of the iceberg.

He says property owners all over Southeast are allowing them to end up like this.

"Dealing with vacant properties and what we call slumlords is the most prevalent problem we have now," said Huxhold.

Another resident, Duane Howard, pointed out a burned-out house on 8th Street.

He says the decaying structures have a ripple effect.

"My home value has plummeted like everyone else's. We, I can't tell you how many people, including myself, we would love to move and get out of here if we could, but we simply can't afford to. We can't get any fair value for the home," said Howard.

After responding to this latest incident, the Roanoke Fire Department confirmed arson is on the rise in Southeast.

"This year, we've identified that we've had six intentionally set fires involving a structure, outbuilding, and/or vehicle. That compares to five last year," said Fire Chief David Hoback.

The evidence of the problem can be seen dotted through the neighborhoods, like a burned-out house on Dent Avenue, or another sitting abandoned on Stewart Avenue that was ruined in a fire on Thanksgiving in 2015.

Huxhold says the problem persists because no one is holding the owners accountable.

"It's the situation where we've gotten the least amount of cooperation from the city on trying to fix," said Huxhold.

"I literally had to fight with the City in trying to get it boarded up because we discovered children, saw children playing around the house. They could fall through a floor," said Howard, referring to the burned house on Dent Avenue.

Huxhold says his group, the Southeast Action Forum, has worked hard with the city to eliminate crime, but unless the neighborhood is worth living in, he says all the progress will be lost.

"We've cleaned up everything else, but until we clean this up, we're not going to get people to come in and invest money in this neighborhood, and that's something we desperately need," said Huxhold.

The city says it adheres to the Virginia Maintenance Code that reads "The notice shall require correction of the violation or violations within a reasonable time unless an emergency condition exists."

Huxhold and Howard say they believe that "reasonable time" should be much shorter than a year or more.

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