Vacant Homes in Portland – Squatters Paradise
Portland is known for its lush green landscape, close proximity to the coast and mountains, excellent public transportation, public art, established neighborhoods and so much more. Portland is now all over the news for some reasons that are not so marketable. We have a large number of vacant homes that are either being foreclosed on or waiting for the formal foreclosure process to begin. These vacant homes are attracting squatters, some are respectful of the homes and just need a place to stay while they get back on their feet, but others are ruining these properties and the neighbors are starting to worry.
Imagine working hard to save enough money for a down payment and finally finding the perfect home. After 30 days in escrow, multiple inspections and much of your hard earned money invested into your new property you finally get to move in. The neighbors come and introduce themselves and the area is lovely with a warm feeling. Until you meet the new neighbor: the person that is squatting in the vacant home right next to your property. This is happening in many neighborhoods in Portland’s inner SE and NE areas and is becoming quite the problem. Squatters are moving into these vacant homes and are able to live here for free for long periods of time. The police can come out to the property, but cannot remove the squatters without the owners or banks permission. This seems like it would not be possible with property rights and such, but there are many homes in limbo. Property owners who can no longer afford their mortgages are walking away from homes and the banks are foreclosing on them in record numbers. The problem with this is that once the foreclosure process starts the property is not owned by the bank for some time, it can take years from start to finish. Allowing squatters to set up house to live, use drugs and do whatever else it is they do in these homes.
Many of these vacant homes are being attacked by the squatters, there are currently about 7500 vacant homes in Portland. Squatters are vandalizing the homes causing so much damage that some must be torn down. All metal materials: such as pipes, sinks, door hardware and even gutters are being removed and sold by the squatters. Windows are being broken, walls are being smashed and graffitied, floors are being ruined and so on. Many of these homes are being used to buy, sell and use drugs. Drug paraphernalia is found inside and outside these vacant homes which is no longer a surprise. This is becoming common practice and is for sure affecting property value for surrounding homes. In the last month there have been two house fires that are both thought to be started by squatters in vacant homes. Both of these homes are in SE Portland, one at 8729 SE Malden St and the other at 9809 SE Holgate St. There was a woman in one of the fires and it was reported that she was severely injured. It is unknown if this was the owner of the property or not, but the home was empty and boarded up at the time of the fire.
These vacant homes are becoming such a problem that neighbors are taking matters into their own hands: boarding up windows, locking gates, mowing lawns and trying to make the homes look like they are lived in to help deter squatters from moving in. The city is doing what it can to remedy this problem as well. There is a budget of $200,000 just for the boarding up and demolition of these homes. It costs on average $3000 to board up the properties and $15,000 to demolish. The city getting involved is the last resort as the responsibility is on the owner or bank that is foreclosing the home to get the squatters out and clean up the property.
This issue brings us back to the last blog post we did on developers in Portland tearing down homes to construct new ones. I believe that developers are the answer to helping with some of these vacant homes: the homes that are beyond repair with missing wiring, pipes, windows, walls, etc. It would make sense for a developer to come in and purchase these properties to tear them down and build new ones. They could be single family homes, townhomes, condos or whatever really. It would make sense and save the city money for a private owner to take care of these demolitions and rebuilds. It will also revitalize the area, add value to the neighbor’s property and help with getting more housing into the inner East side areas of Portland.
Written by Amanda Folkestad and Brian Porter