Coastal Municipalities Struggle to Manage Blighted Properties ~

The housing market slump is in its fourth, fifth, or sixth year, depending on how you choose to date the downturn. And as time drags on, the oversupply of distressed, foreclosed, and even abandoned properties on the market poses a continuing problem for local governments. In Salisbury, Md., there are more than 230 vacant buildings registered with the city, reports the Del Marva Daily Times (“ Vacant buildings a rising blight ,” by Sarah Lake). And they’re found in more upscale neighborhoods, not just in low-income neighborhoods, the paper reports: “Kurt Drechsler, president of the Harbor Pointe Community Association, said foreclosed, bank-owned and abandoned homes are scattered throughout the neighborhood.” The abandoned houses can become magnets for criminal activity, said Salisbury Police Chief Barbara Duncan: “Typically, what we find is illegal drug activity surrounding these locations and underage drinking. It becomes the location to facilitate larger, criminal events.” And foreclosed and abandoned houses are dragging down everyone’s property values, said Kurt Dreschler: “We recently had a home that went to bank auction and was sold for ($80,000 or so). Considering some of the houses out there were bought for $300,000 or even $1 million, it kind of affects everyone in the neighborhood.” In Baltimore, Md., firefighters are posting a red “X” sign on some abandoned buildings. It’s a warning to fire crews that the structures are unsafe to enter in case of a fire, reports local station WBAL-TV (“ Red X: Warnings Posted On Vacant Buildings ”). ““It warns firefighters that this could potentially be an unsafe structure and to use a different tactic in battling this fire,” said fire department spokesman Kevin Cartwright. “We simply won't send these firefighters inside to battle a fire in an unsafe structure.” Baltimore officials say it would cost $180 million to take down the 10,000 vacant, blighted buildings in the city — and that’s money the city doesn’t have. Baltimore’s annual budget for demolishing blighted structures is just $3 million. In Deltona, Fla., meanwhile, city officials have begun their own, much smaller, demolition program to tackle their abandoned-building problem, reports the Daytona Beach News-Journal (“ Deltona demolishing blighted homes for safety, aesthetics ,” by Mark Harper). The city has also budgeted $30,000 for three contractors to “take care of foreclosed properties that have overgrown yards, scattered trash and unsafe conditions,” the paper reported.