ghost towns of the great recessionFor the past few years, when my toddler and I went for a walk around the block in our neighborhood in New Jersey, a suburb of Philadelphia, we passed a spooky-looking house with overgrown trees and a faded stucco exterior. Number 22 looked as if no one lived there, although my neighbors assured me that it was occupied. At least that was the case until about a year ago, when its owner fled her residence for parts unknown. The house has been a blight on the neighborhood ever since. (See the photo below.)

Grass in the unattended front yard got about a foot high until, the township got complaints from angry neighbors, including me. Officials in our township then got someone to cut the grass. A tree fell on the side of the front yard. The roof looks like it needs to be replaced. I am not sure about the interior, but given how bad the exterior of the house looks it probably isn't in very good shape. During a recent visit, I saw a newspaper stuck in the gutters on top of the garage, and the garage door was cracked open for some reason

Our neighborhood is quiet, and some of my neighbors are original owners from when the development was built in the early 1990s. Recently, there was a rumor going around that the empty house was unlocked. Worried about the potential security risk, I called the local police who told me that was not the case. Though officers regularly check the house, I am worried still that it will become a magnet for trouble, as abandoned houses often do.

A Sign of the Times

Number 22 (I am not revealing its precise location for security reasons) may be unique in our neighborhood but it is a depressing sign of the times. According to RealtyTrac, almost 300 properties in Burlington County, where I live, received a foreclosure filing in the past month. One out of 677 properties in New Jersey received a foreclosure notice in October. The numbers would have been higher if it were not for the "robo-signing" controversy which caused some banks to halt their foreclosures, only to restart them again.

Ghost Towns of the Great Recession

But the Great Recession has changed the look of many neighborhoods. And economic circumstances have forced many people to leave the places they called home.

In poorer cities in New Jersey, such as Camden and Trenton, abandoned homes are a serious problem. Officials in Willingboro, a neighboring community, are using federal funds to acquire and rehabilitate foreclosed homes. And a new housing development being built near me sat virtually abandoned until the developer cut his prices drastically.

Millions of houses across the country have been abandoned by owners for a variety of reasons. Oftentimes, people leave their homes because they owe more than their homes are worth. Others got caught up with adjustable rate mortgages where their payments ballooned to levels that they could not afford.

Living With the Effects

I am not sure why my neighbor left the 2,368 square foot place she called home since the 1990s, but she sure left a mess in her wake. RealtyTrac estimates that it will cost $2,556 to fix the property up.

Technically, the house is in "pre-foreclosure," which means that ownership hasn't changed yet. An August 2009 notice of lis pendens was issued, giving public notification that the process was underway. It says the mortgage was originally issued by World Savings Bank, which was subsequently acquired by Wachovia, which was in turn swallowed up by Wells Fargo (WFC). A sheriff's sale may be months away, and longer if the matter is contested. Homeowners are given two chances to bring their mortgages current and can request delays of the sale.

"I can confirm that we did service the loan through our Wachovia portfolio, and our records indicate we had an inspector at the property just before Thanksgiving," writes company spokesman Jason Menke in an email. "We'll work to get someone out there again soon to inspect the property and address any issues that may exist. We understand the impact vacant and foreclosed homes have on communities, and work very hard to secure and maintain the properties we're responsible for."

While the foreclosure crisis is an annoyance to me and my neighbors, others certainly have it much worse. For example, about 20% of the homeowners in Willingboro are in foreclosure. For now, though, we are going to probably have to put up with the eyesore unless there is evidence that it is a nuisance or a health hazard. According to Kenneth Goldman, South Jersey Legal Service's Litigation Director, poor upkeep "in an of itself ... may be difficult to address until the sheriff sale," he says.

So until the house is sold, it looks like we are going to have to live with it.

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120 Comments

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Larry

Forclosing on Homes seems to be like a sport to the Banks, I hope they learn a lesson from this day on, Displacing Familys is a rotten thing to do.

December 16 2010 at 8:00 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lastrayofsun

everyone is missing the point. the point is that this foreclosure mess is affecting everyone and is not getting any better. when the government stepped in and bailed out the banks by giving them billions of dollars they should have done something to repair the root of the problem which is this mortgage mess. they should have demanded banks to renegotiate people's mortgages so they wouldn't lose their homes in the first place. many of these homeowners are hard working people who have invested their life savings into their homes. many have paid their mortgage payments on time for 10,15,20 years and all of a sudden find themselves out of work and in the precarious position of not being able to any longer pay these payments or even sell their homes which they have invested tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars into. when someone becomes unemployed their mortgage payments should be differed to the back end of the mortgage.this will keep people in their homes they have worked so hard for.this would put a stop to this mess. don't think this couldn't happen to you!

December 12 2010 at 9:13 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to lastrayofsun's comment
Wendy

Thank you. Everyone is missing the point: NIMBY --> ME in no time flat.

December 13 2010 at 6:16 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Wendy

I just want to add that this is nothing new to certain "pockets" in this country. Back in 1970, I watched (from my comfortable, if modest, living room window) while my neighbors disappeared in the wake of the SST cancellation and Boeing Bust cycle. But here is the difference: back then, we all knew our neighbors, and helped each other out. If a house was vacant, we watched it, mowed the lawn, helped out in any way we could. I have a very difficult time with someone complaining about a vacant house being a "blight" on their comfortable community. NIMBY --> ME in no time flat.

December 13 2010 at 6:19 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
migdawn

that was the most ridiculous article I have read in a while since when did they move new jersey a state into a city philadelphia which is pennsyvania.Then go back later to talk about the towns in new jersey? What a bogus article. Whom ever wrote this should be fired. Im sure there are plenty out there that would love his job and know wtheir demographics a bit? If this country gets dummied down any more, God help us

December 12 2010 at 5:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to migdawn's comment
dwbarn

Philadelphia is on a river and the far side of that river is New Jersey. Thus many New Jersey residents live in a Philadelphia suburb, which is what Mr. Berr wrote. We'll give you a break, this time, but no one should write curmudgeonly comments at 5 in the morning. wake up before you post next time.

December 12 2010 at 7:41 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Wendy

Mabye more to the point, go to bed and get some rest instead of staying up all night on the Internet!

December 13 2010 at 6:21 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
memaw7824

A lot of people are not able to take care of an extra yard, I do good to get my own cut. Sometimes the city or county will come in and cut the grass of an abandoned house. They probably put a lien on it.

December 12 2010 at 5:14 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
nadadotgem

If you're so concerned how the empty/foreclosed house looks and affects your neighborhood.....why not get a few neighbors together to do something about it. Take turns cleaning it up. It will show you care enough about your neighbors and neigbhorhood, and might be able to get a new homeowner quicker....just by being a good neighbor. If it bothers you......DO SOMETHING. A good thought.....If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got. DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT. Go clean it up.........singlehandedly if you have to. Your action might get others to join in. Put an inexpensive wreath on the door. Do something. Or as you say..."Live with it"

December 12 2010 at 3:11 AM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
Carolyn

If you don't want to live with and "eyesore" why don't you be a good neighbor and pitch in with the other complainants and clean it up - Too bad we all couldn't pitch in and help each other out instead of complaining. By the Grace of God or your higher power - it could be your home in foreclosure.

December 12 2010 at 2:43 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
Peggy

I agree with the comments -- worry about your own house, and quit complaining! I had a neighbor who reported me because I had three small woodpecker holes in the side of my house (you couldn't see them unless you were in my property!! All because I told him to put his trash containers on his lawn, not mine. At the time I was recently separated, working full-time and going to graduate school full-time, and had a newborn, with no financial contribution from my husband. And I had to get the house repainted, because a neighbor complained. People who spend too much time worrying about such superficial things need to go out and make a difference somewhere. Volunteer, for pete's sake, and quit worrying about such ridiculous stuff. Jeez Louise, a newspaper in the gutter -- Horrors!!

December 12 2010 at 2:34 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
rwdvddndcrw

I don't see anything wrong with that property that a long weekend and some elbow grease couldn't fix. Should see the old 1890's farmhouse in my neighbor's back yard, roof caving in windows shot out by hunters or kids, raccoons in the foundation crawlspace. completely uninhabitable, but you know whats funny, the neighbor can't afford to have it raised, and the poor disabled older lady is forced to pay taxes on it as a usable building. I will probally have to help out eventually if I want to improve the looks of our neighborhood, wish the other neighbors would help her too. oh well, life goes on

December 12 2010 at 2:09 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
bargene

Sorry but this house DOES NOT look like an eye-sore. You had time to blog about this, why not mow the lawn? Jeez, go to Lawerence,MA to see some messes!

December 12 2010 at 1:34 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Southern

Here is an idea. Take a ladder over to the house and get the newspaper out of the gutter. Then mow the yard and edge the grass along the sidewalk and driveway. Pick up all the debris. It's your neighborhood and it's an eyesore to you - do something about it yourself and stop waiting for someone else to do it. And remember, what is an "eyesore" to you is much worse than that for the people who lost their home.

December 12 2010 at 1:05 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Southern's comment
Wendy

How true. Have you ever ridden the train out to Philly to some of these "suburbs"? People pushing, shoving, angry ... it happened to me, when I was on my way to Bristol to see relatives many years ago ... you could not PAY me to live there! Those people do not care about their neighbors, they gripe. Take a cue, folks, from other parts of the Country. You could be the next "eyesore."

December 13 2010 at 6:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply