Thursday, May 1, 2008 | 2 a.m.
It’s tough to feel sorry for James Bailey. In 1991 he purchased a small home in downtown North Las Vegas for $25,000. Now the city, needing to clear the way for a road project, is offering him $163,000 for his battered 1,042-square-foot house on East Carey Avenue.
Bailey, however, doesn’t want to sell. Not because the offer isn’t reasonable or he has any emotional attachment to the property, but because he’s refinanced the home three times and today owes $213,000 — the result, he admits, of some bad financial decisions and being too eager to buy rental properties during the height of the housing boom.
North Las Vegas is considering condemning the house as part of a plan to make North Fifth Street a major commercial thoroughfare cutting through the middle of the city from Las Vegas Boulevard North to the Las Vegas Beltway.
Bailey’s property sits where the base would be of a bridge that would allow North Fifth Street to pass over Interstate 15.
It’s an ambitious plan aimed at relieving the increasingly clogged traffic in the nation’s fastest-growing city. As the eight-lane road — three lanes in each direction, with two extra lanes for mass transit — develops, the city hopes it will help revitalize some of its grittier sections and draw additional business to newer suburban areas on the north end.
About 75 homes stand in the path of the proposed road. Most of the owners have willingly sold, thrilled to get six figures for the withering properties.
Bailey, though, isn’t budging so far, even if his green house with a dirt yard and smashed fence seems an unlikely bargaining chip for more money. He benefits, however, from the fortuitous location of his house and the fact that his property is one of the few remaining parcels the city needs to proceed.
The three renters now paying $350 each to live in Bailey’s house have received notices from the city that they will have to leave. Depending on how long they have lived there, one guy is getting $850 for moving expenses, another will receive $550 and the third, a female, won’t get anything.
“I’ve been out looking,” said Daniel Patton, 60, a part-time telemarketer, decked out in a Bumfights.com shirt. “I’m in limbo.”
“What a lovely thing,” said Ron Wade, another tenant, who lives on disability benefits. “It’s like it makes it all right to steal.”
Bailey, who says the current tenants are the best he’s had in 17 years of renting the house, has a counteroffer for the city. He would like City Hall to buy one of the foreclosed homes in the area — and there are plenty with signs on the lawns — and trade it with him for his house. That way he could move his tenants a few blocks and the city probably could save money by buying one of the homes for less than $163,000.
Qiong Lu, North Las Vegas’ public works director, said that is possible. She said the City Council has approved the condemnation of Bailey’s property. However, if Bailey is willing to negotiate, the city will not forcibly remove the tenants.
Bailey, though, hasn’t responded to certified letters, she said.
“He has refused to deal with us, no matter how hard we tried,” Lu said.
Bailey disputes that, claiming to have called the city several times.
“It’s like they said $163,000 — take it or leave it, drop dead, we don’t care,” Bailey said.
Lu was not aware of any other homeowners still working with the city on selling their property. In addition to Bailey’s property, a vacant lot, a home owned by the city housing authority and a section of a casino parking lot still need to be purchased. Five properties have been condemned.
The project, funded by $160 million from the Regional Transportation Commission, is not expected to start for at least another year.
Bailey, though unhappy with how this particular project has played out to date, stresses that he likes the idea of improving the roads, if for no other reason than that he travels around to his rental properties most days.
“I’m not against progress,” he said.