There is no shortage of reminders these days of the recession and the snail's pace of its recovery. It is emphasized in a palpable fear and uncertainty of what may still lie ahead. It turns up regularly in stifling unemployment numbers and in the jittery, gyrating stock market.
It also surfaces in home foreclosures -- both in their alarming number and in the very visible form of vacant houses in the neighborhood, a blight that is comparatively new to our suburbs.
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You know the sight -- a home owned one day by your friend and neighbor is empty the next. In the coming months, it stands out not for its curb appeal but for the knee-high weeds and peeling paint. Worse yet, another one appears down the street and a handful more pop up a few blocks away.
That scene is repeated in subdivisions across your community and a host of others just like it. It is a frustrating and serious problem for neighbors and local governments stuck with an unattended, unkempt home.
For many reasons, addressing the issue isn't easy, as the Daily Herald's James Fuller reported in a story Sunday, but doing so requires residents and local government working together.
It starts with people talking to local officials to identify vacant homes and reporting potential trouble in their neighborhoods.
Next, government must engage the legal process, find the lenders responsible for distressed property and hold them accountable for maintaining it.
In short, we're all in this together.
Wrapping our arms around the foreclosure problem is daunting. It has grown virtually unchecked since the U.S. housing meltdown began in 2006. While 2010 was a record year with 1 million homes lost to foreclosure, RealtyTrac estimates 2011 will be even worse. In the six-county region, the Woodstock Institute estimates nearly 34,000 home foreclosures.
Complicating matters, experts say, is that it isn't always clear who is responsible for maintaining a property. Still, experts told Fuller there are some key ways to tackle the problem:
• Every community should have a vacant property registry that can be expanded with every vacant home report from residents.
• Officials should be proactive about working with police, utility companies and the post office that also have extensive vacant property lists to gather the information they need.
• Then, the responsible parties must be held accountable for the meeting property maintenance standards. Maybe that means fines for tall grass or tax liens on abandoned property to recoup costs of grass mowing and cleanup.
The number of foreclosures shows this isn't an isolated problem. NIMBY (not in my back yard) doesn't apply here.
This one affects us all.