Empty homes continue to be eyesores on the block

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Compared to a few years ago, the foreclosure process takes longer.  That may sound like good news, but it can lead to more homeowners moving out during the long and often stressful process and leaving more empty homes to deteriorate down the block.

Janet Barker of Kansas City, Mo., contacted Call for Action to get help cleaning up the abandoned home next door. It's been empty three years.

"You wonder what else is living in there.  The raccoons have taken over, the opossums.  What else is in there?"  Barker said.

Vacant homes in the foreclosure process are a growing problem.

Realtytrac, a California based company that tallies foreclosed properties, recently began tracking the number of empty homes across the country.  The website checks with the post office to see which homes are either flagged as vacant or the homeowner has filled out a change of address form. These are properties where the owners move out but the bank has yet to take back ownership.

"So, the bank doesn't own the home. The homeowner has left. These properties are sitting vacant and in disrepair bringing down the values of the neighborhood," Realtytrac Vice President Daren Blomquist said.

In May, Jackson County, Mo., had 1,853 foreclosed or bank owned properties, according to Realtytrac numbers.  More than 150 homes are in the foreclosure process that sit empty but are yet bank-owned.  In Johnson County, Kan., 2,264 are foreclosed and 139 more are vacant. In Wyandotte County, Kan., 560 are bank owned and 71 are listed as empty.

On average, the foreclosure process takes longer today than just a few years ago.  That lengthy process could mean more people moving out before the banks take ownership.

"A homeowner who has 477 days in foreclosure is much more likely to have decided to walk away and leave the home," Blomquist said.

Who steps in to clean up the eyesore? Usually city code offices will step in, often at the taxpayer's expense. Those offices may be the best place to contact if you live next to a deteriorating home. 

After Call for Action contacted code enforcement, a crew arrived to clean the mess next to Barker.

"I was really pleased and surprised.  It is wonderful that progress is being made," Barker said.

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