Tony suburbs, such as Easton and East Bridgewater, are dealing with vacant foreclosed houses.
Every morning, Julie Silva would look out the window of her home on Cook Street in East Bridgewater and see the vacant house next door. Rocks had been thrown through the windows. Spray-painted graffiti marred the siding. Animals were living in the house. An old metal gun cabinet in the back yard contained beehives and collected water, becoming a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
“It’s disgusting. Esthetically, everything is wrong with it,” Silva said. “It is just so dirty and broken down, and it worries me that someone will try to break in and steal something.”
The house has been vacant since the owner lost it to foreclosure in September 2006. At some point, the bank sent someone to board up the windows.
“Now it is covered, but it is even more of a huge eyesore,” Silva said recently. “It is the epitome of a pit.”
Cities are not the only communities faced with a surge in vacant, foreclosed homes. There are some 400 such houses in Brockton, but towns are not immune to the problem.
Foreclosures are reaching crisis proportions:
In the first quarter of 2008, there were 320 foreclosure deeds filed for Plymouth County.That’s a 124 percent increase over the same period last year when 143 foreclosure deeds were recorded. Registrar of Deeds John Buckley said 142 foreclosure deeds were recorded for Plymouth County in March alone this year.
So the problem Silva sees first-hand every day is becoming more and more common in the suburbs, as houses sit vacant, creating a blight on the neighborhood, driving down property values and increasing the potential for crime.
“These do become blighted areas,” East Bridgewater Assessor Cheryl Pooler said. “When you leave it there that long, kids break into it, it becomes an eyesore and it brings the neighborhood down.”
Empty, foreclosed homes add to the stock of other vacant properties, some left to deteriorate over years, increasing the overall blight. One of them is a rundown building on Main Street in Easton, vacant for more than a decade. The owner, Justin Joyce, said the house has been in his family since 1913 and is in the process of being sold.
As vacant houses mushroom in suburban towns, neighbors, real estate agents and authorities try to reduce the potential for trouble.
Bridgewater Police Chief George Gurley said his officers will do routine vacant-house checks if homeowners request them. And many Realtors have been requesting police checks of vacant homes as well.
Ken Licciardi, a representative of Coldwell Banker in Easton, said many area Realtors also are putting boards on the windows of available homes to deter thieves.
Barbara O’Sullivan of Whitman worries about what the empty houses are doing to her home’s value.
“When someone shops for a house, they don’t just look at the home they want to buy, they are buying a neighborhood to raise their children in,” O’Sullivan said. “When no one cares about a property anymore, it shows.”
So O’Sullivan will park her car in the driveway of a vacant house to deter criminals from thinking that no one is paying attention to the home, but she isn’t about to mow the lawn or trim the shrubs.
“I know parking in the driveway isn’t much, but at least it’s something,” she said. “But we just don’t have the time to take care of a property that doesn’t belong to us.”
O’Sullivan is concerned about what vacant houses are doing to the neighborhood financially and safety-wise.
“It’s sad, you see these houses as a place where a family once called home and now they are just an eyesore,” she said.
In addition to the visual blight, the value of scrap metal has made vacant properties targets for thieves, who are often drug users looking for a quick buck to support their habit, law enforcement officials say.
With scrap copper prices about $2.50 a pound — double the price of seven years ago — a house’s copper pipes, estimated at 200 pounds, bring hundreds of dollars.
Bridgewater, East Bridgewater, Raynham and West Bridgewater have all seen cases of copper theft and vandalism, causing local detectives to warn homeowners, construction crews and Realtors about criminals taking anything that isn’t nailed down.
“This happens every time the price of copper goes up,” said West Bridgewater Police Chief Robert Kominsky.