Foreclosures Burn Fair Haven; Maps Tell Tale
by Thomas MacMillan | Aug 27, 2012 8:24 am
Squatters urinate in the closets of abandoned homes. Backyards fill with tires and old mattresses. Porches turn into drug dens. And Julio Pena’s family tries to run a children’s daycare.
That’s life in the epicenter of New Haven’s ongoing foreclosure epidemic.
Pena (pictured), who’s 57, lives near the corner of Exchange and Lloyd streets in Fair Haven. The intersection is at the white-hot center of a “heat map” showing which city neighborhoods have been hardest hit by foreclosures in recent years.
Compiling four years of data provided by the city’s Real Options for Overcoming Foreclosure (ROOF) initiative, creative cartographer Bill Rankin recently created several maps for the Independent, showing foreclosures initiated and completed since 2008. Click here and scroll down to the bottom of this article to see his completed handiwork and poke around town street by street to check on teh status of foreclosures.
Foreclosures have spiked in 2012, largely as a result of an increase in filings by the Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA).
Rankin’s heat maps show where foreclosure frenzies have burned the hottest between Jan. 1, 2008 and May 2012. Several neighborhoods have been hit disproportionately, including northern Newhallville, parts of the Hill, and a fiery crescent of Fair Haven.
A visit to that crescent last week found a neighborhood that’s a mix of owner-occupied homes and blighted properties neglected by absentee landlords.
Pena, who’s lived in Fair Haven since 1968, lives within sight of a five houses that are currently abandoned, some of which have for years cycled through abandonment, foreclosure, and blight.
According to Rankin’s maps, 16 foreclosures have been initiated since 2008 within one block of the intersection of Lloyd and Exchange, some of them repeatedly at the same properties.
Pena’s daughter runs Grandpa’s Family Daycare out of her home across the street from his. Children play in the backyard, separated by a chain link fence from two vacant houses—one in foreclosure—where garbage fills the yard. Despite the boards on the doors and windows, people regularly break in to turn tricks and do drugs, according to Laurie Lopez, the Fair Haven specialist with the city’s Livable City Initiative.
Laurie Lopez showed off several of the intersection’s currently vacant homes, starting with side-by-side houses at 207 and 211 Lloyd St. (pictured).
207 Lloyd has been vacant and blighted for years; it was foreclosed on in 2010. 211 Lloyd was abandoned more recently, and seems headed for foreclosure. It had a note on the door from July, from the mortgage servicer, looking to ascertain that the building had been abandoned.
Like other blighted properties in New Haven, the two houses have run through the hands of slumlords and fraudsters. 211 Lloyd was one of a number of properties taken advantage of by a mortgage fraud ring that the feds took down two years ago. It was purchased by fraud-ring “straw buyer” Alicia Martineau in 2009. 207 Lloyd was previously owned by poverty landlord Janet Dawson.
I wish they’d just knock them down, seriously, said a woman leaving a house next door. “I constantly have to be looking out the window, seeing who’s there at nighttime.”
Both houses were strewn with garbage. A pile of tires sat by 207 Lloyd next to a smashed-in TV. People use abandoned homes as dumping ground, Lopez said. They also use them as places to do drugs and turn tricks, she said.
Lopez walked to the back of 211 Lloyd to investigate a new opening into the building. The back porch had two large cans of Natural Ice beer, a big pink bottle of body lotion, a syringe cap, and other miscellaneous garbage.
She walked up steps to a second-floor porch, avoiding a sodden, flattened mouse corpse and a missing step. She found a window had been broken in upstairs. And the door was unlocked.
Inside, Lopez cautiously investigated the empty rooms with a big blue Mag-Lite flash light. You never know if someone might be lurking in an abandoned home, she said. “I just don’t like surprises.”
The house turned out to be cleaner than some she’s seen. Even so, some closets contained urine stains, and one held a fossilized turd. Lopez said that’s typical. With the water shut off, squatters will use an abandoned toilet until it fills up, then turn to the closets.
Lopez ends up playing “cat and mouse” with squatters, she said. She knows them and they know her, but she rarely catches them actually inside a house.
See you in the basements, one squatter told her cheerfully when she recently ran into Lopez on the street, Lopez said.
Lopez locked the second-floor door behind her as she left and said she’d arrange to have the window boarded over.
The Nicest Place To Live
Around the corner, Lopez took a look at 284 and 286 Exchange St. Just like 211 and 207 Lloyd, the side-by-side homes are abandoned. One is in foreclosure—brought by the WPCA—and the other seemed headed that way.
284 Exchange has been abandoned for some time, but the bank is delaying foreclosure, Lopez said. She said she’s seeing that more and more: banks wait longer to take title because they don’t want to take the responsibility that comes with it.
According to Mankin’s maps, the WPCA filed for foreclosure at 288 Exchange St., on the corner of Lloyd Street, in 2011; 288 and 286 Exchange were both foreclosed on in 2010. 288 Exchange has been purchased and renovated by a developer, Lopez said. The other two homes have fallen into blight.
Behind 284 Exchange, Lopez pointed out a broken hasp on the back door. Banks usually put them on foreclosed homes to try to keep people out, but it never works for long, she said. The door had since been sealed off with plywood screwed to the door frame.
In the backyard, Lopez found debris including an old mattress and box spring, carpeting, and construction scraps. All of it was new as of a couple of days ago, she said. People dump all kinds of stuff at foreclosed homes, she said. “I’ve towed cars.”
“It sucks for them,” Lopez said of the effect of the dumping on neighbors who keep up their property.
“Having a house like this depreciates our property value,” Pena said of 284 Exchange St. He lives across the street. He said he’d buy the house and fix it up if he had the money. “The banks, they want top dollar.”
Pena said he worries about fires caused by squatters lighting candles inside the abandoned homes. “Someday they’re going to burn it down.”
“I grew up around here,” Pena said. “It was never like this. This used to be the nicest place to live.”
“Cat And Mouse”
Lopez next checked in on 320 Exchange St., foreclosed on in 2011 by the WPCA and now blighted. She pointed out piles of brush and said the city had just hacked away massive overgrowth that obscured the house.
She found a couple of guys on the front porch and asked what they were doing there. Hanging out, they replied. Lopez let that answer slide as she walked around behind the house. She said drug dealers sometimes use the porches of abandoned houses to meet buyers. Lopez said she keeps an eye on that activity at Lloyd and Exchange too, along with squatting.
“There’s no love for Laurie Lopez on this corner,” she said. “It’s cat and mouse."
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