In Cuyahoga County, Ohio there are 17,000 vacant, foreclosed properties. In Baltimore, there are 16,000. These properties sit, unmaintained, with boarded up windows, affecting not just their own value, but the values of homes nearby.
“The homeowner just assumes, well the bank’s going to take my house, but the bank can make the economic decision not to take the house,” said Cindy Cooper, a Housing Court prosecutor in Buffalo. “Then that leaves two parties walking away, each one thinking that the other is going to take care of the house.”
Pianka still lives in the neighborhood where he grew up and knows firsthand the blight of houses with boarded-up windows.
“The scrappers are taking the jewelry off the corpses that are left,” he said from his 13th-floor office which overlooks frozen Lake Erie.
He’s well regarded among members of the Warsaw Neighborhood Block Watch Club, who have spent time in his courtroom, determined to see something done about open, vandalized homes in their Slavic Village neighborhood.
Vacant houses, some stripped bare of aluminum siding, dot the streets, casting a gloom on their well-maintained neighbors.
“It scares people,” said Joyce Porozynski, a block watch member who has lived in the neighborhood most of her life. “Many people have given up.”
Across the street from Charles Gliha’s cozy 120-year-old home stand three vacant houses, including one with the first-floor windows broken out. Another is being repaired, and a sign in the window warns would-be thieves that there are no copper pipes inside.
Cities blighted by empty foreclosure properties are setting up land banks in order to get unused property into the hands of someone who will maintain and develop it. Some cities are setting up “Bank Days,” where buyers and lenders can hammer out the details.
“If the house is not in a terrible state, a lot of times the bank will discharge the mortgage so that the property can be donated either to a neighbor to be demolished or a nonprofit organization for rehabilitation,” Cooper said. Other times, each side pays a share.