A recent segment on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” “There Goes the Neighborhood,” focused on the impact of the housing foreclosure crisis in Cleveland. Faced with thousands of vacant homes that have led to nearby property values plummeting, blight and havens for vandalism and thefts, county officials have begun demolishing the vacant houses. About 1,000 have already been destroyed and 20,000 more are scheduled to be destroyed at a cost to taxpayers of $150 million.
Fort Pierce also is facing problems resulting from vacant foreclosed homes. While city officials are not considering drastic steps such as those in Cleveland, they are looking to get a better handle on the problem.
Included in proposals is a requirement that the mortgage holders of foreclosed homes register with the city and pay a small annual fee.
City Attorney Rob Schwerer said having a list would get people on record to contact about the foreclosed properties. The mortgage holder would be required to identify a contact person.
Police Chief Sean Baldwin said the registration data list would also help combat crime. Thieves have been entering vacant homes and stripping them of recyclable materials and selling the materials. But, often the mortgage holder is unaware of the theft when it occurs, because the property is not regularly checked. And, should a theft occur, police are unsure who should be notified.
Fort Pierce commissioners are considering an ordinance modeled after one established in the unincorporated area of the county by St. Lucie County commissioners. Holders of mortgages on residential properties are required to register and pay an annual fee of $100. Those responsible for foreclosed commercial properties are required to pay an annual fee of $150. Failure to register can subject the mortgage holder to a code violation and possible fines.
While Fort Pierce officials do not see the program as a big moneymaker, they said the fees can generate some funds for dealing with potential blight, such as paying for mowing overgrown lawns.
Urban Redevelopment Department Director Jon Ward said the city needs to find a way to pay to clean up the blight because the city code enforcement department doesn’t have the money for such efforts, like cutting more grass.
Those who hold mortgages on foreclosed properties in the city of Fort Pierce need to assume more responsibility for maintaining those properties because failure to do so can cause health, safety and financial problems for the owners of nearby properties and cause blight to spread throughout neighborhoods.
Fort Pierce officials recognize the registration and fee requirement won’t eliminate the problems caused by vacant foreclosed homes. In fact, a fee doesn’t seem fair. What would be better is for code violators to pay for problems.
Regardless, the registration represents a step toward more control over the problem. By doing so, hopefully, the city won’t get into the kind of dire situation faced by Cleveland with having to destroy homes at taxpayer expense.