Now and then you’ve probably seen some heartwarming story about the charitable group Habitat for Humanity helping to build a home for someone down and out on their luck.
Just to show you how bad the crisis in vacant and foreclosed has become, Habitat for Humanity is still around, and still helping out — only now the group is concentrating, in some places, on tearing houses down, The New York Times reports. The organization is already hard at work at this effort in Saginaw, Mich., a city plagued by abandoned properties.
As part of an agreement with the city, and with at least $500,000 from the state and federal governments, the Habitat for Humanity volunteers and paid workers plan to demolish two vacant, dilapidated houses here a week, every week, over the next two years. As for creating homes, they will build or refurbish eight houses this year.
The shift in the organization’s focus is a sign of the times in Saginaw, a shrinking city northwest of Detroit where at least 800 houses sit empty and doomed, and offers a glimpse of what increasingly empty neighborhoods in many cities may soon face as foreclosures continue.
International leaders of Habitat for Humanity, an organization more than three decades old, say their focus is changing to meet the demands of a changing economy. In cities where so many homes sit empty, the group is leaning away from building new houses and instead fixing up old ones, said Ken Klein, the vice chairman of the group’s board.
At least Habitat is out there, doing something about this. There’s much more Congress and the Obama administration could do to help out as well. It’s not an impossible task. In April, New Jersey will begin, for the first time, requiring a bank or other entity that forecloses on a house to take responsibility for it both before and after it becomes a bank-owned property, or REO.
Lawmakers could easily require banks receiving bailout funds to take care of their neglected REOs, as a condition of getting the money. Public shame, which worked in convincing some AIG executives to give back some of those bonuses, might also work here. Pass around a few photographs of trashed houses owned by Citigroup, Wells Fargo, etc., and it could go a long way in prompting some action.
The government could also get behind cities that are trying to stop banks from dumping their dilapidated REOs on the real estate market at fire-sale prices, claiming the practice has become a public nuisance because it causes a death spiral of falling property values. Washington, in addition, could support the idea of a federal land bank, or land banking efforts in general, so communities could more easily acquire and reuse large inventories of vacant homes. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac’s new policy of not automatically evicting renters from foreclosed homes was a huge step in the right direction – but there have been few other innovative rental ideas coming from the government.
The worrisome question is not so much what Washington eventually will do — it is when will it finally get around to doing it? How many cities will be left scarred by vacant and abandoned homes before someone acts?
MA-Sen: 150 Conservative Bloggers Fan Out, Looking for Scandals
BOSTON -- The mysterious Election Journal blog, which first released the infamous 2008 video of two bumbling New Black Panther Party members waving nightsticks
MA-Sen: 66 to 19
BOSTON -- That, via Alex Isenstadt and Josh Kraushaar, is the number that defined the Massachusetts Senate race more than anything else. From the primary
MA-Sen: A Text Message From Scott Brown
BOSTON -- Having signed up for Scott Brown’s text message service for election day, I just got this text: Are you about to have lunch? It’s a great time to
MA-Sen: Loyal Democrats Grouse About Coakley
BOSTON -- A little while after noon, a steady crowd of Democratic voters streamed into the Cathedral High School Gymnasium to cast votes for their party’s
MA-Sen: Brown Wins
BOSTON -- At 9:20, the first rumors of Scott Brown’s victory in the Massachusetts Senate race started to work around the room. A moment later, Doug Flutie
MA-Sen Photos: ‘Paint the Town Red! Croakley’s Dead!’
Below are some photos of yesterday’s People’s Rally in Worcester, the rally that Brown held to counter-program the Obama rally in Boston. The crush of
MA-Sen: Out-of-Staters for Brown
BOSTON -- A surprising discovery at yesterday’s People’s Rally in Worcester was just how many people had traveled into the state to assist, in whatever way,
Menendez, Lautenberg to Continue BP-Lockerbie Investigation
Sens. Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg, both New Jersey Democrats, will continue to seek details about BP’s alleged involvement in the release last year of
Net Investors Bullish on Palin’s Prospects for Staying on Ticket
Just for fun, the Internet prediction Website Intrade has opened a contract on whether Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will be withdrawn as McCain’s running mate.
No Experience Necessary
Gov. Sarah Palin’s a middle-class hockey mom, but does that really qualify her to be vice president?