In March of 2009 we bought a building near downtown Omaha which had been condemned. It was an 8-plex and had been vacant since a 2005 double homicide. We spent 3 years working on it, and finally satisfied the city and got tennants to move in.
Directly behind that building, 10 feet away, was another derelict condemned building, on Howard street. That building was full of junk. A hoarder had been filling it up for years, and that hoarder, Joe, often came in and out of that building, bringing more stuff, taking some things out, etc. It was a personal warehouse of sorts for his hoarding habit.
The owner of the building, a lawyer, had gotten the building in exchange for some legal work, but did nothing with it. Eventually the city threatened to put him in jail for neglecting the building. He owed 4 years backtaxes on it, and was not interested in going to jail. I approached him and asked if he wanted to get rid of it. The city had mentioned he could tear it down, but that would cost 20,000, which he was not interested in spending. He said he’d give it to me if I took over responsibility for it, legally and financially. That was August.
Although I didn’t have any legal documents saying it was mine, and wasn’t sure what I would do with it (or could do with it) I decided to start to clean it up. I hired some friends and we took about 11 dumpsterloads of stuff out of the building in September. It was a messy dirty job. It involved getting rid of literally tons of things, including refrigerators full of rotten food.
The begining of the project seemed somewhat overwhelming. Each bit of progress helped encourage us about what we might be able to accomplish. Finally, we got the entire thing cleaned out from top to bottom. But I still didn’t have any legal right to the building, and I still didn’t know what the city would make us do with it if I did.
Throughout this process we haven’t been quite sure what we will do with this building if we can redeem it, or if we may have to tear it down. What we did know was that cleaning it out would be an improvement, and that the building was fundamentally solid and with a great deal of work could probably be a pretty good place for someone to live.
We’ve even considered making it a hostel, or grouphome, or band-practice space. But we don’t know for sure what its end will be– we just keep acting with hope, not really knowing for sure where this is all going.
Last week we started ripping into the walls a bit– taking off plaster and panelling, and getting into the walls to see what we are working with. So far we are encouraged. A slight leak in the roof, but most of the building appears to be in good shape. Who knows what it might become?
Its sometimes overwhelming to have projects like this. But it is exciting. Taking responsibility for a building can be a time-consuming affair (just ask my wife) and so one has to count the cost, although not being entirely sure just what that cost will be.
A lot of things in life are like this though. We don’t really know how that marriage will work out, how this home will suit us, how this church will fit us, how these children will turn out, what our life decisions will bring us. We make decisions with as much wisdom as we can, and leave the rest to God.
Of course most people wouldn’t take on buildings like this– because they have more sense than I do– and they wouldn’t enjoy it. But this redemptive process is fun to be a part of, although sometimes its a dirty smelly job.
May God have mercy on us all (especially my wife).
More pics of before and after cleaning: