Thursday, November 12, 2009

Neighbors work together to take care of vacant homes

Eric Blount, 51, an accountant at DTE Energy, spent the spring and summer mowing grass at his own yard in Detroit's Sherwood Forest and also at the large corner lot next door.
And when a real estate agent nailed plywood over the ground-floor windows of the vacant, foreclosed home next door, Blount went over and painted the wood white to match the white-painted brick exterior.
"It doesn't pay to just look and not do anything," Blount said.
The foreclosure epidemic, while devastating to home values and the quality of life throughout the metro area, has created bonds in neighborhoods hit hardest.
"Having this large a number of vacant homes and knowing no one is going to fix it, brought us together as neighbors," said Gail Rodwin, who heads the vacant homes committee in Sherwood Forest.
In Warren, Mayor Jim Fouts and the Police Department are working to reduce crime, increase blight sweeps, host foreclosure-prevention workshops at City Hall, and fire up dormant neighborhood associations to keep a handle on foreclosures.
"We are doing everything we can to help people to avoid foreclosure," Fouts said.
In Indian Village, residents place baby monitors in vacant homes to stop break-ins and in other neighborhoods, some residents pool funds to buy foreclosed homes and keep them from deteriorating, said Emily Billings, an agent with Dwellings Unlimited in Southfield.
In the Boston-Edison neighborhood, the association's Web site promotes homes for sale, and it recently received a Kresge Foundation grant to help preserve abandoned property in the area, said Pam Malone, incoming president.
The Sherwood Forest vacant homes committee was created earlier this year to deal with the large number of vacant homes. Rodwin said she first triesto reach the Realtor to find out which lender owns the property. Lawyers in the neighborhood also lend their expertise to find and hold accountable owners.
If no one maintains the property, block captains step in as house monitors. Luther Bradley, 54, works in sales for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and oversees the block captains in Sherwood Forest.
His philosophy is simple: "Your neighborhood is as good as the neighbors." So he doesn't mind spending his free time keeping up the foreclosures from picking up debris to mowing the grass.
"I love this neighborhood. It is the jewel of Detroit," he said. "When people come to my neighborhood, I want them to say 'Ooh, aah,' not 'Oh, no.' "