As lenders tighten credit and the economy worsens, foreclosure rates throughout the United States are skyrocketing. According to RealtyTrac, a real estate website, 252,363 U.S. properties faced foreclosure in June 2008, a whopping 53 percent increase from June 2007. The country’s alarming foreclosure rate is bad news for everyone, not just those losing their homes. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit homeownership organization, “Nearly 45 million homes NOT facing foreclosure will decline in value by an estimated $233 billion with most of the decline hitting in 2008 and 2009 as subprime foreclosures lower the prices of surrounding homes.” Not only does home foreclosure lead to declining property values, but it also leads to an increase in criminal activity. Vacant properties can be attractive to vagrants, gangs, and drug users, providing a breeding ground for criminal activity. However, with determination and organization, citizens can fight back and eliminate crime in their neighborhoods.
The citizens of Studio City, CA, are also taking a stand against foreclosure-related crime. According to the LA Daily News, more than 80,000 foreclosures were reported in California’s San Fernando Valley in the final quarter of 2007. As a result, criminal activity flourished in this part of the state. Vagrants and gangs began to gather in abandoned properties, and the streets were no longer safe at night. But Studio City residents fought back. As the newspaper reports, in the last year Studio City residents have established an additional 42 community watch groups to help battle the rapid rise in crime. Now, a total of 89 watch groups patrol Studio City’s neighborhoods to watch for suspicious activity. Additionally, residents began to work with the city officials to beautify the community. According to the newspaper, Studio City is now working with banks that own foreclosed properties in an effort to clean them up and make them less accessible to criminals.
The appearance of a neighborhood is a key factor in preventing crime. If all the homes in a neighborhood are well-kept, unsavory characters will be less able to distinguish between occupied and vacant homes. Community members can easily deter crime by cleaning up vacant properties. According to the Associated Press on MSNBC.com, residents in places such as Elk Grove, CA, have donated their time to prevent crime. Last month, 24 church members gathered to mow and weed a total of 27 unmanaged lawns, dramatically improving the appearance of the community. Simply mowing the lawn of a vacant home can deter criminal behavior.
If the recent bank failures are any indication, it is unlikely that the U.S. economy will improve anytime soon. Rather than waiting for conditions to improve, citizens must take a stand to protect themselves and their communities. In Studio City and Elk Grove, CA, residents banded together to take back their communities from crime. Organizing community cleanup days and establishing neighborhood watch groups are excellent ways to prevent crime in your community. The National Crime Prevention Council, as part of its Celebrate Safe Communities initiative, is offering a free webinar on Wednesday, July 30, on Neighborhood Watch groups and community organization. To sign up for the webinar or to view more information about Celebrate Safe Communities, please visit: http://www.ncpc.org/programs/celebrate-safe-communities/csc-home