‘Zombie’ homes haunt Florida neighborhoods

‘Zombie’ homes haunt Florida neighborhoods

“They said foreclosure, so we just up and left,” said Young, sitting in the darkened living room of her rental house in a nightdress that reveals the bandages from recent heart surgery and the tubing from a dialysis port. “I’m not going to sit here and let someone put me out. I’ve never been evicted.”

The problem is, Bank of America never followed through.  Now, four years later, Young struggles to pay her bills while across town her house sits empty, strewn with trash and rotting under a leaky roof, collecting fines for code violations and unpaid taxes and fees related to the delinquent mortgage.

Young went five months without any disability payments and was living off the kindness of her landlord.  In May, her benefits were restored, but she’s still fighting to get her 16-year-old daughter’s disability payments restarted. The developmentally disabled teen needs medication every day and has been getting by on samples provided by public health clinics.

Young’s case is particularly harsh, but not unique.

Jacksonville’s poor neighborhoods are dotted with abandoned houses stuck in foreclosure limbo. The so-called zombie properties are often uninhabitable because they’ve fallen into disrepair, and owners are unwilling to invest in fixing them up because, with the mortgage unpaid, the bank can always come back and foreclose again.

By cherry-picking which foreclosures they complete and which they ignore, banks are saddling individual borrowers with a permanent, inescapable debt while helping to create slums in already struggling communities. The vacant homes often attract drug dealers and squatters and bring down the value of surrounding properties.

The Jacksonville metropolitan area is listed as having 12,011 properties in some stage of foreclosure as of June and 29 percent — 3,532 — are vacant, according to RealtyTrac.

The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area fares even worse, with 30 percent of 31,759 homes in foreclosure sitting empty.

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