Thursday, September 13, 2012

Historic homes at risk after they're foreclosed

Phoenix historic preservation advocates and community leaders say foreclosure has left some of the city's oldest homes vulnerable to destruction.

"When you're trying to rebuild a neighborhood, none of this helps," said Shannon Dubasik of the non-profit Capitol Mall Association, a neighborhood advocacy group. "We lost another property this year on the other side of 17th Avenue at 330 N. 17th Ave. The other was on 17th Drive."

The Capitol Mall Association focuses on helping neighborhoods between Interstate 10, Harrison Street, 27th and Seventh avenues, where authorities have investigated about a dozen fires since January, according to Phoenix Fire Department officials.

Investigators blame transients, drug users and smokers for some fires, while they attributed outdated, poor wiring as the cause of others.

The fires have destroyed homes built in the late 1800s, when Phoenix was in its infancy and Arizona was a territory.

Louisa Stark, a housing advocate who leads the Phoenix non-profit group Community Housing Project, said history cannot be replaced.

"Once they burn down, that's it," Stark said.

The foreclosed historic properties are most vulnerable to fire, vandalism and other abuses.

City enforcement agencies often end up taking responsibility for their protection, but city officials in recent interviews said foreclosures have made enforcement more difficult.

Eryn Crowley, deputy director for Phoenix's preservation division, said inspectors can issue citations to property owners for weeds, cars and trash in yards, but "if it's still in the foreclosure process, the lender hasn't taken possession, and we can't find the person responsible."

The city took about a month to track down the owner of one of the fire-destroyed properties Dubasik mentioned -- 330 N. 17th Ave.

The Phoenix Neighborhood Services Department issued a notice of violation on the case and so far, the firm the city believes owns the property, CBSK Financial in Santa Ana, Calif., has not responded. The property violations included trash and litter, overgrown vegetation, graffiti and "nuisance" because CBSK Financial had failed to secure or board up all the open windows.

In May, the city put up a temporary fence to deter intruders and vandals.

Without a response, the city will have to take the final step in neighborhood enforcement and forward the case to Phoenix Municipal Court, where a judge likely will issue a fine of up to $2,500 per violation.

Crowley said the city is trying to work with banks and investment firms to keep neighborhoods clean and crime-free.

She said the city has developed a growing list of contacts for the firms that have taken possession of several foreclosed homes in Phoenix.

Crowley said more than 90 percent of the banks and investors the city contacts about problems cooperate with the city.

Stark said the city needs more tools to enforce property laws. She likes the idea of the city setting up a foreclosure registry, which Los Angeles and other cities nationwide have created to quickly track down owners of foreclosed homes when trouble, such as vandalism or a fire, is spotted.

The threat of enforcement can prompt owners to install fencesand replace doors, windows and locks.

In Los Angeles, the city requires owners to register their foreclosed properties every year and pay a fee that covers the city's costs for overseeing the registry and enforcing city property laws.

"It's important because time and time again, it's been difficult to find out who owns a piece of property," Stark said.

Phoenix council members are interested in the idea. City staff are studying the matter and are expected to issue a report this fall.

by Emily Gersema - Jul. 23, 2012 The Republic |

Historic homes at risk after they're foreclosed

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