Gracie took a journey down Memory Lane to Brookfield, Mo., last week. She took her mom on a weekend trip to attend a family reunion.
Brookfield was a bustling community back in the day. Brown’s Shoe Factory was the largest employer. Then it closed. Gracie’s family and most of Brookfield moved to Chicago for jobs with Florscheim Shoes.
While visiting Brookfield, Gracie took memorabilia photos. One old abandoned home, next to her mom’s childhood home, shows a classic example of waiting for days never to return. She said there were homes and buildings like this one throughout the Missouri town.
The number of vacant homes in the U.S. increased to 19 million in the first quarter 2010 according to the Department of Commerce’s Census Bureau. It’s another problem growing from the bottom up.
City halls across the country are grappling with the associated consequences of abandoned property. It’s more than just a rundown house with broken windows across the street. Vacant homes in neighborhoods not only bring down property values, but they attract crime, grafitti, pests and rodents. During the property’s neglect and decline its neighbors also contend with unkempt lawns, weeds and blowing/collecting debris.
Many of the municipalities are trying to address the problem with ordinances aimed at foreclosed properties. Some require banks and other owners to maintain foreclosed, abandoned homes. If they don’t, they face fines. Enforcement of such measures is difficult because the mortgage holder that ultimately owns the vacant-foreclosed property can be next to impossible to hold accountable. More success is reported when banks and title companies register properties with the city once they get notice it may foreclose. The city would then have information and ability to check up on those properties.
The city of Chicago Heights started getting rate quotes from private companies to maintain yards and secure abandoned and neglected properties. Mayor David Gonzalez said the city is trying to determine whether it’s cheaper to do it with employees or subcontract them out. Currently the city has been spending nearly $200,000 a year in board-up services.
The city of Springfield used a little more than $26,000 from federal community-development grant (CDBG) funds to purchase some 40 abandoned east-side properties at a county auction of tax-delinquent parcels. The city is in the process of demolishing vacant properties. Once done, public works director Mike Norris said they’d probably ask the city council to declare them surplus property and offer them for sale. Residents are encouraged by the progress toward ridding neighborhoods of abandoned properties, including the city demolition effort.
Still other communities are sitting back and waiting for the good times to return. They see the glut of vacant properties as a temporary situation.
Brown’s Shoe Factory closed in the early 1930s.