The litter-strewn lawns that demarcate vacant foreclosed homes are a rarely considered side-effect of the impact the foreclosure crisis has had on Southeast Queens. But residents who are tired of the unsanitary and often dangerous conditions presented by the neglected properties are fighting back.
On Saturday, March 17, members of the New York Communities for Change Queens Chapter cleaned up the trash from the lawn of 109-31 157th St. in Jamaica, Queens and delivered it to a local branch of CitiBank (168-48 Hillside Ave) who foreclosed on the property.
“Since the economy collapsed and I was laid off I have struggled to pay my mortgage. There are already two vacant homes on this block. It pains me to think that if I lose my home, that it will become a blight on the community,” said New York Communities for Change Member Tikhia Williams who lives around the corner from 109-31 157th St.
“Before the financial crisis, Southeast Queens was a community full of proud homeowners. We took care of our homes and lawns and watched out for our neighbors. Now the foreclosure crisis has driven countless families out of their homes and our new neighbors — the big banks — only care about their profits, not about what’s good community. This is no way to live,” said New York Communities for Change Member William Seaberry of St. Albans.
The excess garbage in the community attracts rodents and other vermin, and the abandoned homes create an environment that is conducive to criminal activity. The homeowners who remain in the neighborhood are facing decreasing property values and worsening conditions because the banks that foreclosed on these properties are not doing their part to care for them.
“For a while now, many people have been able to make their mortgage payments. Seeing the value of our homes decline because of the vacant properties is salt in the wound,” said New York Communities for Change Jean Sassine of Queens Village. “The banks who caused the financial crisis should be taking responsibility for these properties. If they can’t, then they should leave them in the hands of families who would be happy to.”
More than 11 million Americans owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth and declining property values from unkempt vacant lots continue to drive up the underwater rate. Underwater home owners are more likely to be foreclosed on. Currently Southeast Queens has a foreclosure rate three times higher than the state average.