Editorial: On heritage and Heritage House

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When it opened as the Royal Villa Hotel back in 1974, it was the newest and biggest convention facility in the state. When it emerged from bankruptcy in 1978, it became a city-owned retirement community that lasted until the new century.

The project envisioned in 2000 had restaurants and retail setting up in the ground floors, with a shopping mall running to the end of the property.

But a law of diminishing returns applies to buildings like this one, which has been deteriorating in both style and function since Ronald Reagan held his birthday party there in 1976.

Heritage House was condemned on Wednesday, the day this paper comes out, by the city of Greensboro due, officially, to an unpaid, 10-month-old $50,000 water bill and an impending shutdown of electricity.

Unofficially, the place was crawling with mold and vermin, the elevators didn’t work properly and the cops and emergency responders have been coming, sirens blaring, about eight times a day for the past year.

But tempting as it may be, we can’t really blame Ronald Reagan for the troubles of the Heritage House.

Or maybe we can.

It was Reagan, was it not, who popularized the notion that our nation’s poor could live comfortably off the wealth trickling down from the coffers of the rich once they were unburdened by the barbaric practice of paying income taxes.

And that’s sort of what happened at Heritage Home, except it was the circumstances of the people living there that trickled downwards and not the surplus wealth of our rich.

The luxury hotel became an old-folks home. And when the place was unable to sustain the senior citizens, it went to folks even lower on the social-status scale: the poor, who rented the condos from absentee owners for about $600 a month until the place became unfit for human habitation.

The owners will lose their investment unless they rally to restore the building, which seems doubtful — the homeowners association they formed can’t even cover the water bill.

That’s sort of what happened at Heritage Home, except it was the circumstances of the people living there that trickled downwards and not the surplus wealth of our rich.

And the hundreds of residents of Heritage House will trickle down even further, some moving in with family, some becoming temporary wards of the city and the rest looking for more cheap housing. One might be tempted to call them victims, but that would be a misnomer. In order for there to be a victim, there must first be a crime. And the owners of the 177 units at Heritage House, where bedbugs infested the walls and excrement sat untouched in hallways and stairwells, have not been charged with any crimes. That sort of thing trickles down to the bottom, too.