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The drawbacks of demolition

When Linda Williams-Purnell looks out on the block where she resides on Buffalo's East Side, she sees more empty lots and vacant houses than occupied homes.

Demolition crews have been active in the 100 block of Koons Avenue, off Broadway. The block now has 12 occupied homes, 12 vacant houses marked for demolition and 18 empty lots where homes once stood.

"Sometimes, when I stand out here, I feel like I'm living in the country," said Williams-Purnell, a professional artist and storyteller who lives in the middle of the block. "So many empty lots and houses with nothing but animals living in them. So many people have moved out because of the drug scene. We used to have four drug houses on this one block."

On a recent Sunday afternoon, Williams-Purnell stood in her driveway and looked at the two vacant lots on either side of her and the ghastly wreck of a vacant house across the street. Old tires, broken furniture and paper trash were strewn all over the property.

One block away is Goodyear Avenue, which has been rocked by drug-related crimes.

Goodyear has had more demolitions than any other street in the city over the past 12 years -- 99 properties were knocked down, city records show.

Koons, with 64 demolitions, is No. 5 on the list.

As busy as the demo crews have been on Koons Avenue, some neighbors want more houses torn down.

Until recently, construction worker Terrence Southern, 40, and his wife, Laura, had vacant houses on both sides of their home. They were thrilled in mid-March when -- after years of complaints to City Hall -- one was torn down.

Living next to the house at 108 Koons was a nightmare for the Southerns. Several species of vermin, including possums, rats and skunks, made the house their home during the warmer months, Southern said.

"The worst thing is, when the weather gets really cold, the vacant houses get really cold, and these things are looking for a warmer place to live -- my house," he said.

The house at 108 Koons was also used by prostitutes, who took their customers into the building to turn tricks, and by junkies, other neighbors said.

Southern has 11 grandchildren, and it broke his heart last year when the mothers of his grandchildren said they would no longer allow the children to visit him on Koons.

"Their mothers were afraid they'd get bitten by rats or sprayed by the skunks," Southern said.

As Southern looked out on some of the vacant houses on his block, he offered his philosophy on the city's demolition program.

"My first choice for any of these [vacant] houses would be to see somebody buy them, fix them up and live in them," he said. "My second choice would be to have them torn down and turned into vacant lots. My last choice is to have them just sit there, the way they are. These houses are a hazard to this neighborhood."

-- Dan Herbeck