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Eyesore to Art

Blight fighters to turn a vacant home into a work of art.

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Like so many vacant, boarded-up homes throughout the city, the house at 2514 Harvard in Binghampton lies somewhere in foreclosure limbo.

Its windows and doors are boarded shut, and rotting wood hangs from the banister on the front porch. But the abandoned home may be on its way from blighted eyesore to artistic symbol of community revitalization.

People First, a local nonprofit partnered with the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center, plans to paint the house and the boards sealing the doors and windows with scenes of a healthy household.

"We wanted to find a way to bring art to that space in a way that wouldn't alienate anyone in the neighborhood," said Brad Watkins of the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center. "The idea is to paint over the boarded-up doors and windows with paintings of windows and doors looking into this house, as if people lived there.

"It serves a practical need. I don't want to live next to a house like that. Nobody does," Watkins continued. "We want to begin shining a light on the systemic problems that cause [blight] in the first place."

Some of those problems include negligent out-of-state landlords and banks that allow homes to fall into disrepair and refuse or avoid paying taxes on the properties.

"[With this project] we can start to connect that vacant house to the larger abstract issues of why we have all these vacant houses and what's stopping the city and county from finding out who owns them and collecting taxes from them," Watkins said.

People First planned to paint the house last weekend, but the weather was too cold for the paint to dry properly. A new date for the action has not yet been determined. So far, Binghampton residents, local art students, and art teachers have signed up to volunteer. Sherwin-Williams and Home Depot donated the paint.

Watkins hopes the home will serve as a call to action for Binghampton residents.

"I'm hoping that once we get this project done, there will be other people in the neighborhood who are going to see it and want that to happen [to the other condemned houses in Binghampton]," Watkins said. "Maybe we can even make a competition out of it. Sadly, there's no shortage of houses like that one, so the idea is to take on other houses across Binghampton over the next year."

In January, People First will be hosting a one-day government benefits screening and application assistance workshop for residents looking to request food stamps and TennCare. They've also planned a renters' rights workshop.

"A lot of times, these slumlords get away with victimizing people because people just don't know what their rights are," Watkins said. "[Residents] need to know how to organize themselves to fight against these unfair practices."

Continued Watkins, "We're not trying to fix Binghampton. There's nothing about Binghampton that needs fixing. We want to be a partner with the people of Binghampton, helping them do what they want to do in the community."

Those looking to get involved, join the People First committee, or donate paint to the project may email Brad Watkins at brad@midsouthpeace.org.

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