Wednesday, April 02, 2008

An update on the house that was set afire down my street:

I called the appropriate person in the mayor's office and he has taken the action needed for the city to secure the house. I haven't checked about the tax status of the property, but I will. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to find there are back taxes due.

In my newspaper column this week I questioned if it was possible for the city to have a mechanism to try to prevent this kind of thing from happening. It's undoubtedly pie in the sky, but if abandoned, unsecured properties were reported, perhaps the fires that diminish the neighborhood could be prevented.

Mark M wrote," What are the reasons an owner would just abandon a house? More expensive to pay the taxes and upkeep than to just lose the house? I'm sure this is all 'common knowledge' to you guys who pay attention, the reasons someone would do that. What I'm wondering is, who can blame him? If it's a lose-lose situation for the guy, is he supposed to personally drive up here and make sure the house is secured? And how much would it cost to truly secure an empty house in Springfield?

"I'm not defending the guy. Just wondering what he coulda / shoulda done. I guess if he doesn't want the responsibility of being a good steward to the neighborhood, he should sell - but can he? Maybe he can't get back what he owes on the thing so he throws up his hands and says the hell with it?

"Or maybe he's a slumlord buying on the cheap to run the neighborhood down so he can sell it off and then get a big lucrative bulldozer contract with the city?

"It's baffling as hell. I'm inclined to say the culprits are the pricks who spray graffiti all over the house and catch it on fire, but maybe the Florida owner is at fault."

Okay, let me try to address this issue. In a city such as Springfield, out of town investors have bought a lot of rental property over the past 20 years. The up side is money can be made and the worse thing is that if you can't sell the property to someone else, you can simply walk away.

Walking away means avoiding having to fix up the place if there are code violations and not having to pay property tax. The city will eventually take your property in lieu of paid taxes. They can't sue you. They can't file criminal charges.

People who live here do this as well. The owner of Western Mass. Theaters walked away from the Calvin in Northampton, the Rivoli in Chicopee and the Bing in Springfield. And he's a local guy. He created problems for three communities.

I suppose the worst thing for the absentee owner would be the financial situation such an abandonment would cause with a lender.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs


Mark Martin said...

Hi Mike. Thanks for the detail. I kinda knew all that, so please be patient with me while I try to clarify my side of the discussion.

I still don't understand how the house's owner has hurt the neighborhood. You say he should know what he has done to the neighborhood. It didn't have to burn. Etc.

What did he do? He left a perfectly good house sitting there.

He did not go in and spray graphiti all over it, or catch it on fire. A bunch of punk hoodlums did.

I can understand rage at fatcat slumlords who are collecting rent and actually making money off of property that is unsafe for the tenants, that sort of thing. But some guy who leaves a perfectly good house sitting empty so a homeless person can get in out of the rain? I can't see why he should know what he has "done to the neighborhood."

And to your other commenter: I can't concede that the so-called Bush economy did anything to that house in Mike's neighborhood, or other abandoned burning houses in the Vermont 'hood. If people are walking away and leaving perfectly good houses to be burned, your problem is the house-burners, not the owners or the economy.

Serious suggestion, offered in the spirit of real solution, to all people who are afflicted with abandoned burning houses in Massachusetts, Vermont and beyond: Talk to your neighbors and city council etc. If unsecured houses are a problem, secure them yourselves. If that sounds like too much of an expensive hassle - let 'em burn!

THANKS again for the further info. I do sympathize and "feel your pain" as Bubba would say. I am just still having a problem understanding the home-owner's fault (or Bush's) in this particular instance.

SRBissette said...

In many cities, houses have been abandoned and devalued to as little as $3000 and UNDER -- after the houses had been stripped of all copper plumbing, which required the destruction of walls, floors and ceilings to get to the damned copper.

Mark, look, as has been covered at length over the past few weeks, the almost complete GOP-led (particularly under Bush's 'watch', though I use the term loosely for obvious-to-almost-everyone reasons) deregulation and neutering of any meaningful scrutiny and/or control of the financial institutions clearly led to the current housing crisis. The "anything goes" selling of second mortgages -- in which middlemen earned enormous commissions, then sold off the risk completely, pocketing fortunes -- was a direct fruit of the GOP and Bush's policies. The result, from the immediate impact on Wall Street and the banking systems (globally), is clearly visible and now manifesting on the streets of many US cities -- leaving once-lived-in homes abandoned, vulnerable, and the vandalism is only increasing the crisis (don't you see how what happened three houses away from the Dobbs's home is devaluing THEIR home?).

Of course, as this devaluation goes down, the property taxes only climb -- as municipalities, struggling to offset the collapsing social support systems that have been systematically ravaged by the Bush Administration, raise local taxes to desperately try and cover eroding systems -- even though the real estate value of homes plummets.

The previous homeowners, the banks and the local authorities are increasingly saddled with a commodity -- the home -- no one wants or can afford to protect. Left empty and vulnerable, the vultures (whether partying teenagers or copper-seeking 'choppers') close in and do their dirty work. The entire neighborhood suffers, the whole area is afflicted and devalued, and also made more vulnerable to crime and predation. It's no longer a vicious cycle, it's a frightening spiral.

I'm not making this up -- nor is anyone else -- do the homework.

And Bush fiddles like Nero, as far as I can see...

SRBissette said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SRBissette said...

PS: Open your eyes about landlords and renters, too, before it hits one of our own (e.g., our now-adult kids): another recent phenomenon being reported with alarming regularity are tenants who PAY their rent, only to be evicted by banks -- when the owner, e.g. landlord, defaults and loses or abandons the property.

These renters then lose much more than their immediate housing -- they also lose their first-and-last-month and security deposits (the banks assume no obligation to recognize the prior arrangements with the previous landlords), setting many on a irrevocable downhill slide. Sans resources or recourse, they're pitched into the street.

All this is swelling the ranks of the homeless at a terrifying rate -- and folks without jobs, homes or prospects are among those stripping abandoned houses of any sellable asset (like copper pipes).

Again, with almost eight years of an Administration that gives a rat's ass about unemployment, homelessness, and any pretense of some semblance of a social support network for those unlucky enough to fall into these declines (often due to lack of health insurance and/or health care; a single catastrophic accident can set the entire deck of cards tumbling), the results are inevitable. We're seeing it happening. Well, some of us are recognizing what we're seeing. Others don't. Until it happens to them, or one of their own.

And so it goes.

Mark Martin said...

Good Goshamighty!

Forgive me, Mike. I'm going to hijack your blog now and talk directly to Mr. Bissette. (But I would still like to ask YOU once again how that house's owner has done something to the neighborhood that he needs to be told about.)

Steve, once again you are demonstrating how your obsession to blame everything on Bush and people who you think are not as tuned-in to reality as you are makes it difficult for you to address the original point of a discussion.

You can educate me til you're blue in the face about all the current events and financial situations that you think you are so vastly more enlightened about. That still does not tell me anything about why a man who has an empty property that he cannot (or even will not) maintain properly is guilty of it catching on fire.

Let's say Mikey goes away for a month and cannot afford a full-time housesitter. One night thugs bypass his alarm system and have a crack party in his house. One of them knocks over the crack cooker in a stoned stupor and burns the house down.

Has Mikey done something to the neighborhood? Should his address in Scotland be published to alert the citizenry to contact the man who has done something to the neighborhood?

SRBissette said...

Mark and all -- FIVE YEARS AGO, many state attorney generals mobilized against predatory lenders.

The Bush Administration used the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, invoked an obscure law in the 1863 National Bank Act that pre-empted states predatory lending laws, and thus aggressively protected the lending institutions rather than consumers.

That's quite a stretch, amigo.

The Attorney Generals of ALL 50 STATES bucked this abuse of Federal power, but so far the Bush Administration have successfully blocked any legal action.

Perhaps its pure coincidence, but the very week that NY Governor Eliot Spitzer was exposed for his call-girl dallying, an op-ed essay he wrote was published, exposing this action of the Bush Administration.

This isn't new: for those paying attention, Spitzer had been fighting the Comptroller since at least 2005:

Draw your own conclusions. Others already are:

Now, in 2008, our cities and towns are sprouting abandoned houses like mushrooms.

Towns like Windsor. Towns like Springfield. Three houses from where one of our best friends live.

Abandoned homes are empty, vulnerable to predation -- whether its active predation (stripping plumbing and wiring for copper) or passive (partying/crashing by teens/homeless folks), many will fall into disrepair and fires will break out.

Cause and effect.

Underfunded communities can't afford to 'protect' empty dwellings, or track delinquent owners eluding creditors.

It's all connected, my friend.


SRBissette said...

And, to address your point:

IF my home caught fire, whether I lived in it at that time or not, and IF I did nothing, abandoned my home, and thus set my neighborhood on a downward spiral in terms of property values, etc., there would be legal action directed at me -- if they could find me.

In Marlboro, there was action taken on the community level (mounted at a Town Meeting) toward a neighbor whose yard was so strewn with garbage and rotting cars that it became a threat to the water table (leaking oil and toxic fluids dripping from the vehicles). Steps were taken.

The same in Guilford, VT, which made it into the local papers off and on for a year until the owner was evicted and the unofficial 'junkyard' cleaned up at the taxpayer's expense.

Don't try this at home.