Home condemned, but owner denies hoarding

Homeowner says she doesn't understand why Grand Rapids house deemed unlivable

Boston Street SE, Grand Rapids, hoarding
Workers remove garbage from a condemned home on Boston Street SE in Grand Rapids. (July 12, 2017)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A home in Grand Rapids’ Boston Square neighborhood has been condemned and its owner kicked out after years of housing violations.

Boston Street SE west of Kalamazoo Avenue was shut down for hours on Wednesday as crews cleaning out the house hauled piles of wood and other debris, including tires that littered the yard, into a waiting garbage truck. They said the piles of rubbish were a fire hazard. Workers boarded up the windows of the house before they left.

The city deemed the home unfit for occupancy because of unsanitary conditions.

24 Hour News 8 asked the homeowner, Idella Williams, if she has a problem with hoarding.

“I used to and the hoarding that they’re talking about is the things that I brought from 935 Kalamazoo (Ave.),” she said, speaking only 24 Hour News 8 on Wednesday afternoon.

Williams, a local pastor, says she keeps mattresses and three storage units of clothes for people who may need them. But she said she isn’t a hoarder now and keeps her home organized.

24 Hour News 8 spoke with her outside Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Hospital, where she said she was being treated for complications from a car crash two years ago and stress.

“Because they put me out of my house, I didn’t get my medicine or anything,” Williams said.

She said she doesn’t understand why a court ordered her to leave her home by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

“It’s wrong and unjust. It’s my home and even if I was a hoarder and if they can walk through it, that’s up to me,” she said. “I’ve seen many houses worse than me and I’m not going to talk and say, but I feel that if I’m paying for my house, why can’t I live the way that I want to live?”

But court documents show violations date back for years.

On two separate occasions within the last few months, Williams denied access to inspectors who were trying determine what violations existed at her home and how they could be corrected.

“It was just a mess. The front yard, you could walk past the front yard, you’d see 20 or 30 kitchen chairs just sitting there and all kinds of other various sundry junk,” neighbor Karen Van Dyke said.

Van Dyke, who has lived on this street since 1979, said the problems at Williams’ home date back for years. She wrote a letter to the city a few years ago and even testified in court to put an end to the mess, but the problems continued.

“It’s just nasty and you always wonder about what’s germinating back in the back there, like will we see rats? Not good,” Van Dyke said.

Last year, the city says, a dog was found eating the body of a dead dog on Williams’ property. But Williams says she takes care of her dogs and doesn’t understand what happened.

She said she’s going to protest with signs outside the courthouse during the weeks she’s out of her home.

“I’m going to live out on the street,” Williams said, adding that she may stay in her car. “I feel it’s unjust.”

The city has three weeks to clean everything up at the home before Williams can move back in on Aug. 2. As long as she keeps it up to code after that, she can stay.