From the

The same industry whose lax lending standards led to the economic downturn is now being blamed by local officials for letting neighborhoods rot.

Those on the front lines of the battle for Sacramento neighborhoods say many banks and other lenders are either unable or unwilling to handle the mass of houses left vacant by the foreclosure crisis.

Many derelict houses are owned by lenders. Others are sitting in limbo. Lenders have begun foreclosure proceedings but haven’t taken title, and the families who lived in the homes have gone.

Drive around one of the neighborhoods hardest hit – Oak Park – and the scope of the problem becomes evident.  “We’re in the thick of it now,” Melanson said, driving slowly up 21st Avenue, pointing out the boarded-up houses dotting the block. “That one. That one. That one. Another one over there.”

To deal with the problem, the Sacramento City Council passed a vacant building ordinance in early 2007, beefing up penalties for owners who let vacant properties decay That led to the formation of a special unit within the Code Enforcement Department to minimize the blight.

Melanson heads the unit and commands five officers. Their only job: responding to vacant building complaints. Since September 2007, the unit has closed 1,750 vacant building cases and now has 450 open cases. The crush shows no signs of letting up.

Squatters are a recurring problem. Some even carry around their own deadbolts, which they install on vacant homes.  During a check on the 3200 block of 21st Avenue, Caluya found a half naked man inside. His name is Sou Chao, and Caluya had chased him away from vacant buildings four times before.

Caluya said he wouldn’t mind the homeless sleeping in the empty buildings, but there is a liability issue. Many squatters use candles or build fires in the homes. In the past year there have been three fires and two home explosions in vacant Oak Park buildings, Caluya said.


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