The house at 4748 N. 16th St. has been vacant, abandoned and usually open to vandals for about three years.
Vermin, vagrants, thieves, trash dumpers, gang members and children have traipsed through the house for years, neighbors said.
Three weeks ago, the house burst into flames, threatening the homes of elderly women, one of whom uses an oxygen tank, who live in houses only feet away.
The offending house is still standing. The fire was no more successful in bringing down the house than have been neighbors' complaints to city officials.
The house's continued existence is a testament to the fact that even with a beefed-up city budget for demolitions, problem buildings continue to plague Omaha neighborhoods.
“It needs to be torn down,” said Rico Vidales, whose grandmother lives next door to the south. “It's completely gutted. It's not savable. It's turned into a dump, a place to hang out and do drugs and whatever else, and now there are people going in there and starting fires.”
Gang graffiti is scrawled on the house's back wall, above a dumpsite-like mound made of a bed, sofa, shattered TV and other debris.
The owner, Ronnie E. Swift of Omaha, said the house had been plundered of its plumbing and wiring when he bought it a few years ago. He intended to renovate it and rent it out.
Swift said the first thing he did was install an electrical panel. He turned on the electricity, figuring that would deter thieves. But thieves ripped out the panel hot.
It went downhill from there. Swift couldn't even keep the house boarded up, let alone repair it, he said. He gave up, and hasn't even gone there in months.
The city has been on him, saying, “ 'You gotta do something,' ” Swift said. “I don't know what to do.”
Kevin Denker, chief housing code inspector for the City of Omaha, said the house at 4748 N. 16th St. is on the city's priority list for demolition. He said he didn't know when it might be knocked down, but he expected it to happen this fall.
Fire-damaged buildings are a priority for city demolitions, Denker said, but there are a lot of such structures in the city. And even with a larger demolition budget, there's still not enough money to go around.
“We really have to focus on the worst of the worst,” Denker said.
Neighbors believe that 4748 N. 16th St. qualifies as such.
Samantha Smith lives with her grandmother next door to the north. Their garage is about 10 feet away from the house. Smith said she and her family have been calling police and other city officials for years about rats, illegal dumping and vagrants next door.
Tracy Hawkes, owner of Nite Hawkes Cafe across the street from the burned house, said she knows the city has a lot of problems to deal with and not enough money to fix them.
But the house is dangerous to children, Hawkes said. It also is a detriment to the neighborhood and its small businesses.
“It's hard enough to make a buck in this economy without that dragging me down,” Hawkes said.
A cruise through the neighborhood last week revealed at least two more longtime vacant, open and vandalized houses within a half-mile of each other.
One of them, at 4712 N. 18th St., originally burned Nov. 22, 2011. Neighbor Tracy Warbelton said the house was never securely boarded up. It became a rodent and wildlife refuge. It has again caught on fire at least twice.
On Friday, in what could be a sign of hope for neighbors of other such problem properties, a contractor for the City of Omaha knocked down the eyesore next door to Warbelton's house.