After learning an elderly couple turned down multiple offers of assistance, the Marion City Council agreed Tuesday to start the ejectment process on Friday, Sept. 13 for a dilapidated house that is considered “a health and safety hazard” and “unfit for human habitation.”
On Aug. 20, the Marion City Council first heard a case of ejecting the occupants from a house at 503 Baldwin Ave. Charles Owensby, 79, and his wife Mary, 77, live in this house. Since March of this year, the city of Marion has sought to have this property brought into compliance with the minimum housing standards. The house has been deemed by the city to be “unfit for human habitation” due to unsafe wiring, large amounts of trash, lack of potable water causing unsanitary conditions and improper disposal of human waste, no working hot water supply, the connection between oil heater flue pipe and adjoining wall in disrepair and significant structural damage, a wall falling into a living area, disrepair causing collapse of the structure, vegetation growing into the interior and other issues. This dwelling is in violation of the minimum housing standards rules, according to city of Marion officials.
After receiving the report and hearing from Charles Owensby, the City Council agreed last month to give the couple more time to find a new home.
On Tuesday, council members heard additional information about the situation at 503 Baldwin Ave. Planning and Development Director Heather Cotton said again the house has electrical power and because of the unsafe wiring, it becomes a dangerous fire hazard.
Since last month, city of Marion officials have reached out to several agencies to see if they could help the Owensbys. These include the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), McDowell County Department of Social Services and the Council on Aging. Charles Owensby declined the assistance from the VA and turned down the one DSS program that could have helped him and his wife, according to Cotton.
Police Chief Allen Lawrence said he too got involved with the situation by speaking with the couple’s daughter to see if she could take them in. He was told by the daughter that she could not do that.
The police chief said the couple could possibly move into an apartment complex but that place has a waiting list. “As of today, they have not applied for the apartment,” said Lawrence, adding the complex has a $20 application fee.
City Manager Bob Boyette asked Lawrence if the $20 fee is an obstacle for the couple applying.
“I think we could raise the $20 right here,” added Boyette.
Fire Chief Ray McDaniel also gave a report to the council about the dangerous conditions in that house. When the fire department is considering to burn a house for firefighter training, he has to evaluate the structure first to see if it is safe enough for them to enter. He said a house in good condition can collapse in 25 minutes once it is burning.
McDaniel said if the house at 503 Baldwin Ave. should catch on fire, it would not be safe for him to send volunteer firefighters in there. “That’s a tough decision I would have to make,” he said to the City Council.
He added it is right up against other houses in that neighborhood.
“There’s other lives involved in that neighborhood and that bothers me,” said Councilwoman Juanita Doggett.
Cotton said she and other city officials have reached out to churches and the Owensbys have declined their help, too.
“We have done what we feel we could do,” said Cotton.
After hearing from city staff, council next heard from Adam Mace, who has known the Owensbys for many years.
“I’ve known these people my whole life,” said Mace to council. “They are not fixer uppers. I feel for them because they are up in age but when they were younger, they lived that lifestyle.”
He said to The McDowell News that the Owensbys had a previous house on Sixth Street from the 1960s through the 1980s and they let that house become dilapidated.
In addition, Mace provided Lawrence with $20 to pay the fee for the couple’s apartment application.
After this discussion, the City Council voted to approve the summary ejectment of the couple from the house at 503 Baldwin Ave. and directed city staff to file the paperwork for the ejectment on Friday, Sept. 13. This matter will then follow the process outlined under state law, going through a magistrate, according to Cotton.
The house will be boarded up and the city would next go through the process of having it demolished.
Neither Charles nor Mary Owensby attended the meeting on Tuesday when council again heard about their house.
And despite numerous comments about this situation on social media and online offers to help them, no one from the public - except for Mace - attended Tuesday’s meeting about this issue.