‘It looked like a jungle’: Birmingham lot cleared one year after approved for work, neighbors want to know why

7,775 properties are currently in violation of city code
Published: Oct. 19, 2021 at 12:21 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 19, 2021 at 12:26 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) – When Mattie Jackson moved into her home in the Oakwood Place neighborhood 44 years ago, there was a big, beautiful home across the street.

“It was just a perfect street to live on,” said Jackson.

She added, “Now, I feel like crying when I drive home because it looks like this.”

That big, beautiful home is long gone. It’s now a lot overgrown with weeds almost taller than Jackson.

“It looks like a jungle.”

Overgrown lot in Birmingham's Oakwood Place neighborhood.
Overgrown lot in Birmingham's Oakwood Place neighborhood.(WBRC)

There are two abandoned houses down the street from her home and a handful more around the block. Windows are busted out, doors wide open and front porches caved in. Weeds crawl from the front yards over the sidewalks and into the street. The mess welcomes rodents, snakes and people to toss their unwanted garbage.

“This is the way it looks,” said Jackson. “And people just throw trash out here because nobody seems to care.”

Except Jackson cares. She walks around her neighborhood proudly pointing out the investments being made.

“This one is brand new,” she said, looking at a pale yellow home with bright green grass.

She added, “You can see the houses around here so you will know that we are trying to do what we need to do. The only problem is the city and someone owns the property and it makes it look bad.”

Jackson said she’s called 311, the City of Birmingham’s service request line, so many times, she got tired of writing down confirmation numbers. She said she’s reported overgrown lots, trash on the street and a city-owned space near her home with misshaped shrubbery that grew so tall, it blocked the stop sign.

She added, “I’ve called City Hall so many times they know my name, they recognize it when they pull it up, we get promises and they’re never responded to.”

Jackson and her neighbor paid their lawn man to cut back the bushes and the grass at the city-owned space, and at 80 years old, she gets out every few days to rake the trash around her neighborhood into piles. She said some of the piles haven’t been picked up since late August.

Mattie Jackson rakes trash around her neighborhood into piles and leaves them near City...
Mattie Jackson rakes trash around her neighborhood into piles and leaves them near City trashcans to be picked-up. She said this pile has been growing for months.(WBRC)

After calling the City for months, she called WBRC FOX6 On Your Side Investigators.

“This is the first time I had the courage to say, ‘I’m going to say something,’ because if we don’t say something, it’s like we like it. I don’t like it. I really don’t.”

The lot across from Jackson’s house had grown past being in violation of Municipal Code Sec. 11-8-8 that makes it, “unlawful for any owner, proprietor or other person in charge or control of any lot, place or premises within the city or police jurisdiction thereof, when such lot, place or premises are not under cultivation for useful and productive purposes, to fail to keep and maintain the same free from injurious, noxious or unsightly weeds, shrubs and other vegetable or grass growth higher than ten inches.”

Properties in violation of this code are considered “weed bill properties.” Property owners are first cited and given time to fix the problem, and since late 2017, 21,227 owners have done that, according to data provided by the City of Birmingham.

Property owners who do not meet compliance standards are presented to the City Council. From there, Council can vote to deem the property a nuisance, and eventually give authority to have the grass and weeds cut at the expense of the property owner. Between July 2017 and the end of September 2021, contractors have cut 8,324 properties. The active weed bill list dates back to January 1, 2016 and has 7,775 properties, according to city data.

Those properties are either waiting to be put on a contractor list, or going through the weed bill process.

The property across from Jackson’s house has been through the weed bill process a handful of times, according to data publicly available on the City’s website. The first violation was found in 2010. A few years later, the City Council moved to have the property demolished, and the City had the property cleared in October 2019. The property was added again to the weed bill list last fall.

For two years, Jackson watched as the lot grew out of control.

“I know it’s difficult, we have things going on with the pandemic, but, it’s taken years for this place to look like it does,” said Jackson.

Then, one morning last week, Jackson looked outside and saw five trucks parked across the street and workers busy clearing the lot.

“Their work was cut out for them,” said Jackson, standing in front of the cleared lot.

The workers also cut the grass in the city-owned space near her home and promised to come back to take care of the shrubbery.

She said it’s taken too long, and too much effort to get this work done.

“The neighbors keep their property clean but we expect the city to help us a little bit more,” said Jackson.

She added, “But I am happy they did decide to get out here and I hope they understand that we are going to be persistent, and it won’t get like this again, because I think we deserve more.”

WBRC FOX6 asked why it took more than a year for the lot to be cleared after City Council approved for it to happen and was not given a specific answer, but was told: “Delays in the cutting of lots are based on the fact that the needs significantly exceed resources. Overgrown lots are the private property owners’ responsibility first. When a private property is in violation of a code, every effort is made by the city to work with the property owner to maintain their own property. Part of that process involves an investigation and placing the private property on the city’s weed bill. Due to resources and the number of properties to cut, it does take time to address properties. In the last four years, more than 21,000 private property owners have complied. In cases where the property owners do not comply, the city weighs the most efficient ways possible to cut the most properties possible through city crews and contractors. Unfortunately, the number of property owners with vacant properties not in compliance is a constant issue that the city continues to address.”

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