Empty Houses Prompt Concerns About Crime
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
California leads the nation in home foreclosures, which means that some neighborhoods there are filled with lots of empty houses. Now, there's concern that besides hurting the economy, all those vacant homes are also fostering crime.
NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports.
KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: Southern Californians knew the foreclosure crisis was bad but they didn't realize it was dangerous until this story made the local TV news.
(Soundbite of TV news)
Unidentified Woman #1: A real estate agent is recovering tonight after she was raped and stabbed repeatedly in a home that's for sale. She thought she was meeting a man who was interested in buying that home.
BATES: The woman's alleged assailant lived down the street from the vacant house. He was renting a room from a family hoping his rent would help them avoid foreclosure. Corona is part of California's so-called inland empire, a swath of former farming fields and citrus groves that were converted into commuter communities during the national housing boom. Banks happily lent money to first-time homebuyers but many of those were subprime mortgages. Now, the ballooning payments have caused record foreclosures, which in Riverside County have soared more than 90 percent over the past year. Realtor Lori Gillespie(ph) gestures to the new tile-roofed homes being built right next to Highway 15 in Corona's Evandale neighborhood.
Ms. LORI GILLESPIE (Realtor, California): Five years ago, the builders were coming out here, they were buying up land but there was nothing, but these too little developments and cows - dairy farms everywhere.
BATES: Now, Gillespie says there's not a cow in sight.
Ms. GILLESPIE: You've got big retail complexes, you've got brand new schools - five in this location here - you got 11,000 new homes and they're still building.
BATES: But the housing market crash means many of those new homes will take longer to sell and many that had to be repossessed will stand unoccupied for a long time. The National Association of Realtors has a video telling members how to take precautions when showing a home.
Unidentified Woman #2: If you're showing a property to a new prospect, it's best to let the client precede you through the property and keep your cell phone handy in case you need to dial 9-1-1.
BATES: Jennifer Castillo(ph) says she does that and more. She meets clients in her office first and requires them to leave identification. At open houses, she has friends and family drop in unexpectedly. Castillo says the anxiety in the plummeting housing market has led to unpredictable behavior. The recent attack on the Corona realtor just hammered that home.
Ms. JENNIFER CASTILLO (Realtor, California): It made me aware because of the fact that there are many vacant homes right now, homes that are, you know, in foreclosure, people are upset, there's a lot of things going on right now and you just never know.
BATES: While boarders remain relatively rare in these single family homes, Castillo says she is starting to hear stories of families doubling up when a member loses his house. Moving in with the in-laws isn't always the answer, though.
Ms. CASTILLO: I know one circumstance, it's unfortunate but the in-laws are now losing their home also.
BATES: Back on the patio of a coffee shop and a shopping center that didn't exist five years ago, Lori Gillespie muses about how the trauma of foreclosure hurts more than just the family involved.
Ms. GILLESPIE: The community is affected by it, the job market's affected by it, furniture sales aren't as great and we all know that the county is not receiving their tax payments on these properties. There's all kinds of things involved and it is a domino effect.
BATES: And the tiles are still falling.
Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.
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