News / Top problem for Phoenix is abandoned homes

by Michael Clancy - Oct. 21, 2009 10:46 AM
The Arizona Republic

Uncut weeds, graffiti, outdoor piles of junk: These are the norms in the world of blight remediation. But a new, potentially more dangerous problem has emerged as the economy has declined. Vacant homes, usually the subjects of foreclosure, are keeping the city’s team of 43 blight inspectors on their toes. At a recent Neighborhood Services Department presentation of its program, Put the Diamond Back into Your Neighborhood, about 20 people showed up at the Paradise Valley Community Center to hear what the city offers and to share issues they are facing. Of those who spoke, each was concerned about abandoned homes, whether down the street, on the next block, even next door. The concerns were different from the kinds of things Neighborhood Services inspectors usually see. Vacant homes often present a combination of more common violations. "It is absolutely a growing problem," said Patrick Ravenstein, a neighborhood preservation supervisor who presented the program. He said the department’s normal concerns are related to trash and debris, outdoor storage, untamed or dead vegetation, broken fences, junk cars, vehicles parked on surfaces that are not dustproof, graffiti, and open, vacant structures. He pointed out that residents can take a big role in keeping up their neighborhoods when those kinds of problems crop up. Some neighborhoods do quarterly cleanups, which the city supports with tools and trash bins. Some groups have landscape crews that assist with maintaining properties for people who are unable to do so. Individuals get involved by painting over graffiti, with supplies from the city. A new program from the city is Blight Busters, which trains individuals or groups to lead neighborhood efforts. But Ravenstein said a major priority is open and vacant structures, especially as those have multiplied during the economic downturn. Such homes can become the centers of crime, flophouses for the homeless and a danger to neighborhood residents. "These homes are a priority for us," he said. "We need to deal with the immediate safety risks and potential for crime." Brenda Laskoskie, who lives near Kierland (Scottsdale Road and Greenway Parkway), said her next-door neighbor lost his home 16 months ago. She said an undrained pool caused mosquito problems, but it since has been drained. Now, she says, rats and other vermin have begun showing up, and one of them bit her dog. "There were no rats in this neighborhood before," she said. Ravenstein said he would take a look at the property and decide what to do, pointing out that the property has been flagged four times for violations that eventually were cleared up. Doug Banfelder, a community activist, said he found the program helpful. "These city services exist," he said. "The public just needs to know about them.

Resources for residents

City Web site:     Neighborhood Preservation: 602-262-7844.

Graffiti Busters: 602-495-0323   Graffiti Removal: 602-495-7014   Tool lending: 602-495-0323.

Blight Busters: 602-495-0323     Water services/conservation: 602-262-6251.

Residential trash collection: 602-262-7251      Volunteers: Keep Phoenix Beautiful, 602-262-4820.