Foreclosure's other victims - those left behind
When every second house sits vacant, home values plummet and neighborhoods deteriorate.
CLEVELAND (CNNMoney.com) -- All over Slavic Village, Cleveland, a neighborhood with the one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation, empty houses have invaded once vibrant streets.
Many of the owners left behind live near abandoned houses that shelter squatters and worse. Crime has soared and owners would leave, if they could, but their homes have plunged in value. Leaving would mean starting from scratch.
"[The remaining residents] are hard working citizens who have seen the value of their most valuable assets, their homes, plummet," said Jim Rokakis, treasurer of Cuyahoga County.
Some of them soldier on, fighting back to reclaim their neighborhood and restore some of the value to their homes.
One of those owners is Barbara Anderson, who mostly enjoyed the first 20 years she lived in Slavic Village, despite being, as the first black person on her street, a target of racial bias. The community was very attractive to her back then.
"When I first bought there the neighborhood I thought it was so picturesque, close-knit," she said.
Today, several homes on her block are empty and others have been demolished. She and her neighbors, "feel victimized" she said. "Property values go down; safety is jeopardized; drug dealers and prostitutes moved in."
As foreclosures increased, home prices in Slavic Village nose-dived - far more than in the rest of the city.
The National Association of Realtors reported that median house prices fell 4.2 percent for all of Cleveland over the past 12 months. But in Slavic Village, values have plunged between 25 percent and 45 percent, according to Mike Graham, of MRT Associates, the Cleveland representative for Zaio Corporation, a national appraisal company.
Who, after all, would buy a house on a block where every second home is vacant? The remaining residents gradually became prisoners of the foreclosure war.
"The vacant houses have reduced the value of my home," said Anderson. "Even if you want to, it's hard to move," she said.
Taking matters into their own hands
"People are feeling more angry than trapped," said Marie Kittredge, executive director of Slavic Village Development, who has lived in the neighborhood for nearly 20 years. Homeowners have banded together to try to save their community.
Anderson, who works in the county's ombudsman's office, is president of the Bring Back the 70s Street Club (the 70s refers not to the years but to the street numbers), which battles blight. The club organizes street cleanups and community watches, and maintains the yards of empty homes.
Last summer, members gathered 400 or 500 tires during their annual cleanup of empty lots in the 70s blocks.
The club also alerts police to criminal activity and lobbies the city and area businesses for money and other help.
It's already too late to rehabilitate many of the empty houses. Most of the ones stripped of aluminum siding and copper piping and wiring are too damaged.
What would help, according to Kittredge, is if police discouraged scrap dealers from buying materials they must know were obtained illegally. Part of the perfect storm that hit the community was a rise in commodity prices. "If scrap prices were low, we could keep vacant houses up for years," she said.
"Once somebody pulls the piping out, it's all over," said Mark Wiseman, director of the Cuyahoga County Foreclosure Prevention Program.
Many of the once-proud places have been razed, leveled to the ground, leaving some streets looking like old hockey players's gap-toothed smiles. Under one program, next-door neighbors may buy the adjacent lots for just $1 each.
Kittredge said that her block has maintained itself well. Even though there are vacant properties, neighbors keep them up, mowing the lawns and trimming the shrubs, for instance. "We decorate them for the holidays," making them look lived in.
Kittredge is committed to the neighborhood, which she describes as a wonderful place when she moved in but that is, for her "even more interesting now," more diverse.
Still, for Anderson it's hard to feel good about living in the heart of the foreclosure crisis.
"I can't tell you what it does to your spirit," Anderson said. "You look at the abandoned houses and it really dampens you."