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Neighbors help keep vacancies in shape

Foreclosures affect one in 24 homes in Lincoln
By: Cheri March The News Messenger
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Foreclosures are on the rise in Lincoln, but a recent survey found many of the city’s now-vacant homes still in remarkably good shape. Not that the city hasn’t had its share of complaints – 33 requests for maintenance, 26 for dead lawns, eight for overgrown backyards and seven for “green” pools. But in the seven months that have passed since Lincoln conducted its first foreclosure survey, nearly half the properties remain in satisfactory condition. And while 35 percent worsened – mostly due to dead lawns caused by summer heat – 16 percent actually improved, even as foreclosures jumped 37 percent since the city’s first survey in November 2007. “We’re pretty fortunate with our volunteer compliance,” said George Dellwo, the city’s assistant director of community development. “If I lived next to a house that was an eyesore – now that I know how long it takes a property to go through the foreclosure process – I’d probably bring my mower over there and take care of it.” Lincoln’s code enforcement officer, Mary Bushnell, also credited the cooperative residents next door. “Neighbors are stepping in – mostly they’re cutting dead grass,” Bushnell said. “I think it happens a lot more than we really know. People want to make their block look halfway decent.” Lincoln’s initial November study found 457 of the city’s 17,519 residential units in some stage of foreclosure, according to data taken from All-Foreclosure.com. By July, it was 723 of 17,591 – or one in 24 homes. That’s nearly one-quarter of the 3,151 foreclosures listed in all of Placer County on All-Foreclosure.com. Most of the increase took place in northeast Lincoln, where foreclosures grew 70 percent. Four other areas – southwest Lincoln, northwest Lincoln, Sun City and Twelve Bridges – saw increases of between 23 and 38 percent. But statistics are not necessarily as dire as they appear, Dellwo said. Breaking down the numbers was a tedious task. Some properties listed under the 95648 area code fall outside city boundaries. Multiple-ownership poses problems as well. For instance, a single property with 51 investors was listed once for each owner, Dellwo said. Staff waded through the data house by house, making it difficult to compare Lincoln’s foreclosure rate to other cities without using the same process. “The information is very rough – we have to distill it,” Dellwo said. Though most code enforcement calls regard the appearance of a home, the city’s No. 1 priority is to address public health and safety, namely to prevent diseases such as West Nile virus, he said. On Monday, mosquitoes in Lincoln and a dead bird in Roseville tested positive for the virus – the first Placer County cases this year, reported the Placer Mosquito and Vector Control District. Green pool complaints are referred to the Placer County Mosquito Abatement District, which is able to drop a larvae-destroying chemical into swampy water. “For the most part, we get voluntary compliance,” Dellwo said. “We’re not out there to be punitive … Our role is pretty much to follow up and coordinate (the property care).” Problems arise with the more lengthy foreclosure processes, which sometimes take a year or more. Some banks are wary of taking action on a property during that time because of the risk for potential litigation by the homeowner, who retains the right to catch up on an unpaid mortgage. It can be a struggle for Lincoln to find the current responsible party, though the job has been simplified by a new city database of foreclosed homes. “We’ve gotten smarter, but it’s still a lot of detective work,” Dellwo said. As for how long the foreclosure rate will keep rising, the answer is not clear. Dellwo said the trend will probably continue at least until subprime loans and alternative-A loans, which said are typically given to people with better credit than subprime, reset in 2008 and 2009. On a positive note, he said, real estate activity is picking up because people are purchasing real estate-owned homes. “What’s happening, I think, is that people are kind of past the shock of the foreclosure situation,” he said. “It’s kind of become everyday life.”