Worcester, Massachusetts – 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.
“This is the trenches here. We’ve got to stabilize our community,” said Worcester city manager Michael O’Brien in a sidewalk interview outside the foreclosed condominiums on the quiet street in a Hispanic neighborhood.
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.
Like many U.S. mayors and city officials, O’Brien blames “predatory” lending practices prevalent in the U.S. property boom for the lion’s share of about 4,220 mortgages in his city that are either in, or at risk of, foreclosure.
In February, he began asking judges to assign property managers to buildings at the expense of the mortgage companies. The idea is to stop tenants from being abruptly tossed out of a foreclosed home and to provide enough basic maintenance to keep it from getting condemned.
The question of ownership and responsibility is indeed important, and the questions of costs are indeed not a Wall St. or Washington DC concern yet. There are creative responses given that the mandate to city governments is to survive…in many fashions. This list is a rustbelt special.