U.S. Cities Face Housing Abandonment Crisis

Cities are trying different strategies -- including lawsuits and selling off housing units for $1.00 -- to deal with mass housing abandonment.

"On Lagrange Street in New England's second-largest city, two brick apartment buildings stand side-by-side in varying stages of decay -- boarded up, "No Trespassing" signs affixed, paint peeling. Across the street, a condominium complex is on the brink. Three of its eight apartments are in foreclosure.

Like many cities in the United States where the home vacancy rate has scaled its highest since records began in 1956, the former textile mill city of Worcester in Massachusetts is turning to the courts to fight back.

Their target: banks who abandon properties and who leave behind a glut of empty, dilapidated houses that draw crime, cut tax revenue and depress nearby property values in a market already in a tailspin.

The city of 175,898 people, a munitions depot during the U.S. Revolutionary War, offers a window into how U.S. cities are grappling with a wave of foreclosures that has pushed the U.S. homeowner vacancy rate to a record 2.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007 -- or about 1 million homes.

Other cities are pursuing even more radical measures. In western New York, the city of Buffalo filed a lawsuit on February 21 against 36 lenders -- including big names like JP Morgan Chase & Co Inc and Countrywide Financial Corp -- who were involved in 57 foreclosures that led to properties being abandoned and ultimately demolished by authorities.

The struggling Rust Belt city, plagued by about 10,000 vacant homes and commercial buildings, estimated the 57 foreclosures cost Buffalo $1 million in demolition work and another $1 million in nuisance costs -- from police patrols to boarding up buildings, to the social toll on communities.

Further east, Syracuse, New York, began selling vacant homes last year for $1 each to non-profit groups who promise to tear them down or renovate them. Last month, Syracuse Mayor Matthew Driscoll extended the deal to private companies. The aim is to get abandoned homes back on the market in one to two years and back on the tax rolls."

Full Story: Cities grapple with surge in abandoned homes

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