They're proud of the two-story house they bought to shelter their large family, Golden said, and they've been fixing up the west Anniston residence since they moved in.
But while their house sits on a neatly kept corner lot, the view from their porch isn't as nice. Across one street, the grass and weeds grow waist-high and higher. Across the other street, a house with part of its roof caved in has sat empty for a year. Behind it a massive tree trunk toppled in the yard has sat so long it is nearly covered with vines.
The lot right next door is empty, but it is neatly cut only because her granddaughter cuts it.
"We've been having trouble with so many field rats and mice," Golden said.
Their problem isn't an isolated one. Nuisance properties and empty lots dot the city's poorer neighborhoods, creating problems with pests, havens for illegal activities and making the neighborhoods appear less safe, the neighbors of the properties say.
The city is working to change things.
City Manager Don Hoyt came to Anniston by way of Litchfield, Mich., where he watched the revival of Flint, Mich., after its economic tumble in the 1980s. Michigan's Genessee County Land Bank, Hoyt thought, could be the model for a possible solution to Anniston's nuisance property problem.
The land bank, created in Flint in 2004, acquires abandoned properties and prepares them for sale or development. The program helped to get such property into the hands of local governments, which in turn helped to make it available to responsible new owners, often the owners of property right next door.
Hoyt has been working with city staff and attorney Ed Isom to adapt the land bank idea to Alabama laws and implement it in Anniston.
He calls it a "mow-to-own" program, and it's working not only in Flint, but also in Sandusky, Ohio, Hoyt said as he pulled a Wall Street Journal article about the Ohio program out of a thick binder of information about urban revitalization.
Through the urban homesteading program, interested residents will be able to apply to take over the maintenance of nuisance properties and after a certain amount of time — possibly three years — the city would transfer the deed for that property to them, Hoyt said.
But first the city has to gain control of the properties, Hoyt said.
The city has been caught in a cycle for generations, Hoyt said. People die and leave a house empty, or owners move out of town and abandon their property. The city maintains the lot as the home on it deteriorates and eventually the house is condemned and the city is forced to tear it down. Taxpayers are footing bills of tens of thousands of dollars each year.
In fiscal 2012, which will end Sept. 30, the city budgeted $85,000 to deal with nuisance lots and properties in the city. In fiscal 2013, which will start Oct. 1, Hoyt is proposing to budget $70,000.
"Because we are maintaining all of these lots, I mean, we are obligated to recover the cost as much as possible," Hoyt said. "One of the things we can do is we can put liens for all of the work that we do on these pieces of property."
So, he and staff started working soon after he arrived in Anniston to create the ordinances to make that possible. Some of those ordinances made it easier for the city to step in and maintain a lot that is owned by someone else. Others create the blueprint for placing the liens on the property.
In August, the fruits of that labor were 126 liens placed on the property taxes of properties the city has maintained this year. The liens range from just over $50 to nearly $800 and will be charged as part of the property tax bill, Hoyt said.
Once it is charged owners will either pay the bill and the city will be reimbursed for its maintenance or the property will go to a tax sale, Hoyt said. If someone buys it, the new owner will pay the lien and the city will be reimbursed.
If not, the property will go into the custody of the state and the liens will just multiply. In fact, many of the properties are already in the hands of the state.
"The lien will just be there until something happens to the lot," Hoyt said.
That "something" might be that someone buys the property from the state, the owner redeems it or possibly the city could buy the property.
"We could acquire them from the state, or if we got ahead of the game we might even acquire them from the tax sale for little or no cost," Hoyt said.
But that still leaves the city responsible for maintaining the property, he said.
That's where the mow-to-own program takes over. Once the city takes ownership of the property, there is a three-year redemption period in which the owner can redeem the property by paying the liens and other costs incurred by the purchasers. During that time, the property has to be maintained. Many residents are already taking care of lots near their homes just to protect their own homes, Hoyt said.
"To break this cycle, we have to try to get these pieces of property, one way or another, house or no house, into the hands of private, responsible owners," Hoyt said.