BUSINESS
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Detroit: Banks Responsible For Maintenance Of Foreclosed Homes

As part of the Huffington Post's efforts to bear witness to the effects of the current economic environment on ordinary Americans, we're rounding up some of the most compelling stories reported by local news organizations around the country.

Banks and real estate agents in suburban Detroit, under pressure from citizens tired of seeing their towns turn into graveyards for abandoned homes, will soon be punished if vacant houses they own are not maintained, reports Candice Williams of the Detroit News.

At least five towns in the area, in an effort to get rid of foreclosed homes overgrown with weeds and cracking at the edges, have adopted initiatives aimed at reducing blight and preventing property values from slipping. The new measures mandate that vacant houses must be registered with the city -- at a cost ranging from $25 a month to $150 a year -- and the banks or management companies that own the houses will be ticketed if necessary repairs are not done or houses are not tended to. Opponents of the measures, however, claim that the ordinances are nothing more than a new tax and additional government interference in private commercial enterprise.

"To actually charge people to file a piece of paper, it seems like a gouge to me," said Allen Morris, owner of property management company North Bloomfield Properties. "It just seems like it's piling on fees."

Paul Mychalowych, a real estate agent for Max Brock Birmingham, said he views the ordinances as more paperwork for agents who sometimes serve as property managers for the banks.

"It's a double-edged sword and I don't like it," he said. "My first knee-jerk reaction was: 'bigger government.' The costs are not that high, but it just creates an extra hassle factor for the Realtor."

Residents, already struggling to stay ahead of a 15-percent unemployment rate, a struggling auto industry, and citywide budget failures that keep bodies stacked up in morgues, are troubled by the increasing ugliness in their neighborhoods, and hope that the new plans will prevent their communities from turning into the decrepit ghost towns they are often made out to be.

Foreclosed homes rarely sell, especially in Detroit, where residents are moving out at a rate of about 40 a day -- 15,000 a year. In their wake, abandoned and foreclosed houses and land are left to decay, bringing the beauty of the town down with them. These properties, if not owned by a bank, are often scooped up by profiteering investors at public auction, hoping to hold onto the properties until they become profitable.

Metro Detroit's rates of vacancy and foreclosure far eclipse other towns. Of the 139 square miles in the city proper, 40 are vacant land, reports the Free Press. That's roughly the size of Boston.

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John Worthington was an engineering technician before getting laid off in March. Since then, he has applied for numerous jobs to no avail and decided to take advantage of his excess time by exploring his passion for photography, reports Thomas Becnel of Sarasota's Herald Tribune. Worthington enrolled in graduate school at the University of South Florida and started taking pictures, editing his photos with computer imaging software. This accidental entrepreneur, who is also a high school dropout, just earned his bachelor's last year, and has mixed emotions about the opportunity to explore his passions

In the last six months, he has applied for more than 100 jobs. He has accumulated more than $10,000 in student loans. He has questioned himself countless times.

"Even now, it's hard to talk to people," says Worthington, a Florida native. "When people call on the phone, forget it. Gayle gets the phone."

His wife is grateful for the twin distractions of graduate school and photography.

"It keeps his mind sharp," says Gayle Worthington. "If he's feeling down, he can go out and do these pictures. He's too busy to think about what's going on with the job and the house.
"He has power over this. He doesn't have power over the economy and things like that."

Worthington's photos are on display at johnworthingtonphotography.com and are altered with dynamic imaging software into a look that Worthington's wife describes as Urban Impressionism. John and Gayle's son, who graduated from high school last year, is also unable to find a job.

HuffPost readers: Seen a good local story? Heard about a heroic judge, neighbor, or doctor helping people stay in their homes? Tell us about it! Email jmhattem@gmail.com.