150 Katrina’s

This Sunday’s New York Times hit the nail on the head about the work ahead of us.

Foreclosure is an individual and family loss, and a host of groups are addressing that aspect of the problem. But in many Long Island towns, as well as other locations like Orange, N.J., New Haven, Yonkers and Bedford-Stuyvesant in New York City, homeowners and local groups are also battling the wider effect of foreclosures — the disarray and devaluation of their neighborhoods.

“Vacant houses are a menace to neighborhood stability,” said Patrick Morrissy, the executive director of Hands Inc., a nonprofit housing group in Orange. This spring, for $5.4 million, the group acquired the defaulted mortgages on 47 vacant houses in the greater Newark area, the opening act of a new neighborhood initiative.

Mr. Morrissy said a house-to-house survey he conducted in January 2008 revealed “the first uptick in vacant houses in 14 years” in Orange.

“I would say it’s hurricane season for foreclosures and 150 Katrinas are pounding urban neighborhoods across the country,” he said. “It’s forcing us to reinvent the way we do community development.”

Noting that 654 homes in New Jersey were repossessed in February, Mr. Morrissy added, “We have to grow the scale of our commitment — rescue troubled properties, organize citizens as neighborhood guardians, get new homeowners into the picture — or this thing is going to devour us and our neighborhoods.”

We started our work in the Facing the Mortgage Crisis Project by making helping people keep their homes if they can. A great place to start. But it looks as if we have to do more. Many many homes cannot be saved. As homes are abandoned they ruin the surrounding neighborhood. They eat out its heart and they affect everyone.

What do to? Find the stories of people who are making a difference and tell them!

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