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Zombie Homes: The Problem That Just Won’t Die

The issue of so-called “zombie homes” is a problem for any major city. “Zombie homes” is a colorful name for an old problem, and one that continues to be widespread as the nation gains more distance from the housing crisis and the Great Recession. Zombie homes are created when the foreclosure process begins, the homeowner moves out, but then the foreclosure is canceled for one reason or another, leaving the home unoccupied—and often falling into disrepair. The issue—and misunderstandings surrounded it—is highlighted in a new story about how Portland, Oregon, is tackling the problem.

The Portland Tribune reported recently that Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has reversed a policy put in place by his predecessor that was designed to crack down on zombie homes, threatening foreclosure on the properties in order either to force landlords to attend to the homes’ upkeep or get them into different hands. However, while former Mayor Charlie Hales pushed the Portland City Council to crack down on zombie properties, Wheeler considers the problem less of a priority.

Wheeler told the Tribune, "The obstacles for government to take away someone's property are formidable. It's a very expensive, multi-year process. I'm not sure that's the best use of our resources."

Of course, the problem with typical zombie properties is that there isn’t anyone in the house to be forced out. With the properties trapped in something like limbo, it’s hard to find a good solution for any of the parties involved, from the bank or mortgage company left holding the property, to the city governments tasked with fighting urban blight. As evidenced in Portland, even when one party comes up with a plan to address the issue, that plan can crumble in the wake of budget cuts or political change.  Read More

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