For years, people who live in West Jackson say they've been passed over and forgotten, just like the dozens of dilapidated buildings that surround the Jackson Zoo.
“It was a perfect little neighborhood. It was just let go [and] forgotten," said resident LaChanda Richmond.
Richmond has called West Jackson her home for as long as she can remember.
Now she’s the only one left on her block, and despite that, she stays.
“Because it’s my home. It’s my home. It’s where I grew up. My momma worked hard to pay off the mortgage on the house, which I finally finished," Richmond said. "And then to just see it go down, it’s too much. I put too much. I did too much. She did too much, she worked too hard.”
Richmond said she feels overlooked and neglected by the city of Jackson.
New industry hasn’t come to this part of the city in years, and the only major draw for visitors in that area -- the Jackson Zoo -- could leave in the future.
Richmond believes that could seal West Jackson’s fate.
“It’s like a domino effect, continued all the way to me. I’m the last domino. And honestly, they’re about to push me out, too," Richmond said.
The element Richmond mentions -- "they" -- refers to the neighborhood's criminal element, a factor that keeps people away from the area -- including the zoo.
"The area surrounding the zoo makes me feel a little uneasy, to be honest," said Amanda Burt, who lives outside the Capital City. "A woman and two small children, you don’t feel as safe.”
Imagine what that’s like for people like Richmond who live there.
Her house got burglarized just a few weeks ago.
In fact, 3 On Your Side has chosen not to reveal exactly where Richmond lives because she doesn't want to be hit again.
“They’re going to target me. They have targeted me," Richmond said.
Experts say crime usually spikes in areas with abandoned houses, which in turn can lead to more residents leaving, and more empty structures.
To determine exactly how bad it's gotten around the Jackson Zoo, 3 On Your Side spent more than a week tracking down the owners of more than 860 properties in the area, from Louisiana Avenue to Prentiss Street, Fortification Street to St. Charles Street.
Our analysis found more than 160 properties -- nearly 20 percent -- are dilapidated or shuttered.
A 3 On Your Side breakdown shows the owner of the largest number of rundown properties is the State of Mississippi.
“All of the property is available for a very low cost. We can make a really strong deal. The problem is, we don’t have buyers," said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
You see, when people fail to pay their property taxes for three straight years, that property eventually goes up for county auction. The person then has two years to redeem it, but if they don’t, the property gets deeded to the state.
Though it may not look like it, Hosemann says they’ve sold over two thousand parcels of property in Jackson over the last three years, giving the county, schools and city nearly $2.5 million.
Still, it’s an uphill battle.
“Every year, we acquire several hundred more of these," Hosemann said.
The state can’t clean up the 22 properties it currently owns, according to Hosemann, because that's not why they're funded.
So 3 On Your Side looked at the next entity on the list: New Horizon Church International, which owns 11.
County records show New Horizon has owned those structures for a little over a year, yet no visible work has been done.
“The funding didn’t come in like we originally intended to do," said Ronnie Crudup Jr., who works closely with the organization. "Hopefully within the next six months we’ll have all those issues rectified, through some grant processes but also some private funding,"
Crudup plans to take those West Jackson properties and demolish them -- which they've already done in South Jackson -- but he said that process costs thousands per lot to make it happen.
“Cleaning up the area around the zoo has been one of our main concerns. We acquired those properties to hopefully make a better quality of life for residents around the Jackson Zoo," Crudup said. " And then hopefully this will attract other people to see this progress around the area.”
Our investigation found several nonprofit organizations that own dilapidated structures around the zoo, but one in particular, the Cooperative Community of New West Jackson, still has nearly a dozen properties that look rundown and shuttered.
Many of these properties have been owned for three or four years.
After several unsuccessful attempts to reach the nonprofit’s founder through email and the number listed online, we looked up any information we could find that was filed with the state.
Paperwork filed with the Secretary of State in 2015 -- the most recent filing -- shows a familiar name on the list of the organization's members: Mukesh Kumar, the director of planning and development for the city of Jackson.
Kumar tells us he’s no longer involved with the organization.
“As the planning director, I can’t do that. That’s just not the best use of my time," Kumar said, citing a possible conflict of interest as the reason he decided to leave the organization before taking a job with the city.
Jackson’s chief code enforcer said they’re trying to take these property complaints they receive and correct them from the limited resources they have in community enforcement.
“We do the best we can," Kumar said. "But the problem is, if the demand keeps going down, the total number of new properties that keep coming back that require some kind of code enforcement, we’ll just never catch up to it.”
Kumar said they’re developing plans to streamline this property and violation information and make it available to the public, but expects that will take time to implement an efficient system.
Kumar isn't the only city official with ties -- former or otherwise -- with these dilapidated structures.
Our analysis shows Jackson City Council President Charles Tillman owns four rundown houses in the area.
Land roll records show he’s owned them for at least five years.
3 On Your Side reached out to Tillman multiple times and received a voicemail message from him.
However, subsequent calls have not yet been returned.
The only other organization on our list -- based on the number of shuttered properties owned -- is Rosemont Human Services, which owns five of the structures.
Organizers have also only had them for eight months.
The organization's website says Rosemont will use the properties to create a community land trust with another nonprofit, and will eventually make these affordable houses available to those who need them.
The possibility of having new neighbors sounds good to Richmond, but she’s also lived here long enough to know that, to bring West Jackson back, it’s going to take more than fixing up the houses we highlighted.
“I hope they do something. Please do something, because I might run, too. Over twenty years, and I might decide to run," Richmond said.
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