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Foreclosure, demos and blight

May 8, 2012
BY JAMES PIRKO - Community Columnist (editorial@ , Tribune Chronicle |

In our communities we have seen it happen repeatedly. The neighbors moved out of that house up the street because they received a foreclosure notice.

They were once able to afford their house payments, paid on time, every time. Then something changed for them. The breadwinner may have been laid-off from a well-paying job, and maybe unable to find steady work, or settled for another job earning significantly less. Possibly it was a family member's expensive medical costs, and the lack of health insurance breaking the family's already tight budget. In too many cases, that once-affordable house payment jumped with an adjustable rate mortgage that can more than double the monthly payments.

The family may have been trying to sell their home, but the offers were not enough to satisfy the mortgage balance. Mortgage lenders, especially from out-of-state ''too-big-to-fail'' banks, are infamous for refusing to communicate with Realtors who attempt to get a short sale approved.

If successful, the mortgage holder would receive the sale proceeds, based upon the appraisers' value assessment. Most buyers need to move into their new homes within a reasonable time, and are not in a position to wait for months while mortgage holders dither.

Whatever the cause, homeowner is gone, leaving a vacant house. Months pass and nobody else moves in. The grass grows until the unmowed lawn looks like a hayfield. People living in the surrounding homes grow anxious, wondering when that eyesore will again become a properly maintained family home, and stop bringing down neighborhood property values.

Then someone notices that the doors or windows have been broken. The house has been ransacked, its walls and ceilings torn into by criminals who stripped it of its plumbing, wiring and appliances. This home has become a hazard and nuisance, with trespassers using it for drug abuse and other criminal activities, becoming a menacing presence for neighboring families.

Then water does its damage, brought by broken plumbing or weather coming through broken windows and condensing on the walls. The deterioration grows until the cost of repairs exceeds the value that the house would have if move-in ready.

Sometimes there is a fire, and firefighters risk their lives to assure that nobody is trapped inside. The aftermath is a flame, smoke, and water damaged wreck that is beyond any hope of salvage.

Families who were considering buying nearby homes change their minds and choose other neighborhoods. The nearby homes remain unsold, and even more soon join it on the market with a flood of for-sale signs appearing on the surrounding blocks. Vacant houses with for-sale and for-rent signs become targets for looting vandals and other criminals, experiencing the same cycle of deterioration as the first to fall into disrepair.

Blighted neighborhoods, filled with wrecked and abandoned houses, will scare away tenants as well as buyers, chasing population out of our communities, and leaving even more vacant houses. Youngstown State University and the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative compiled some alarming data, showing thousands of vacant structures in Warren and Youngstown, with about half rated beyond repair. Between 2008 and 2010, Youngstown saw an increase of over 25 percent in buildings receiving an F rating.

Our cities have been demolishing hundreds of these structures, using millions in Community Development and Neighborhood Stabilization Program grant funding, but even this is not enough to complete the task. So much more is needed just to remove the worst blight.

Ohio's Attorney General Mike DeWine has developed a new resource, from a nationwide settlement with five banks who have come to epitomize the foreclosure crisis. Trumbull County has $1,275,797 available, requiring $775,797 in locally provided funds to receive the total allocation. Mahoning County has $1,531,680 available, requiring $1,031,680 in local funds.

Fortunately, our cities and counties are prepared with operating land banks and officials who have already been taking action with every resource available to them. To fully use these allocations from our attorney general, we need to raise the local matching funds required to mobilize a total of $46 million and remove hundreds more blighted houses from our neighborhoods.

Pirko is a Weathersfield resident. Email him at



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