By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
Updated 6 p.m.
LINCOLN — A dilapidated, vacant house where earlier this month a 52-year-old woman and her 10-year-old grandson were found by police living on a squalid porch is owned by Lincoln City Councilman Gene Carroll.
A police officer checked on the house at 2 in the morning Dec. 4 because it was a well-known target for squatters and found the woman and boy sleeping on a makeshift bed of blankets, living in filth. The pair had previously been found in the house Oct. 19, and the woman had been cited for child neglect and trespassing and the boy was taken to the home of a family friend.
According to a police report, the house has no electricity, heat or water and they had been using candles for light, blankets to stay warm (it was 28 degrees) and a 5-gallon bucket to collect urine and feces. Clean and dirty clothes covered the floor and blankets covered the windows. The police officer described the smell in the porch as “cause for concern for anyone who would consider living there.”
“Living conditions inside the building were extremely unsanitary and unfit for humans, let alone a cat, which also called the back room home,” a summary of the police report said. The woman was again cited for neglect and trespassing, and the boy was put in protective custody and turned over to the state.
Carroll told KLIN today that the house has been a commercial property – most recently it was rented by Shramek’s Video Productions but it’s been vacant since 2009 – that he is planning to demolish.
“It’s what happens when you have a vacant property that you’re getting ready to demolish,” he said.
The assessor’s records show Carroll bought the property and the house next door in 2005 for $260,000, but it’s now valued at $76,600 — and that’s just the value of the land, the house is valued at zero. A“for sale” sign in the front yard carries Carroll’s phone number.
The house is on O Street – Lincoln’s main street — just three blocks east of Lincoln’s recently completed $4.8 million Union Plaza and a $246 million flood mitigation and urban revitalization project in the core of the city, the Antelope Valley Project.
County assessor records indicate Carroll also owns a house at 725 South St. and a vacant adjacent lot. The South Street house appears to be vacant, with a rotting porch scattered with old phone books, a peeling roof with what appears to be a hole, and a tire under a bush in the front yard.
The homes appear to fit under the definition of a “problem property” – unsightly homes the city of Lincoln has been working to eradicate for years. Carroll, as a councilman, oversees the very agencies in charge of cleaning up these kinds of homes and dealing with absentee landlords.
Mayor Chris Beutler – who started a neighborhood program to clean up problems in the core of the city, declaring “there will be no slums on my watch” – recently endorsed Carroll for re-election. The mayor’s chief of staff, Rick Hoppe, defended Carroll on KLIN today, saying the home has been used as commercial property for the past 25 years and is slated for demolition.
Carroll, a Democrat, recently announced plans to run for re-election to his at-large seat in the spring.
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