Neighbors tackle 'zombie home,' get results

FILE -- This "zombie home" on Northeast 90th and Going will soon be up for sale. (KATU File Photo)

An abandoned, bank-owned home at the corner of Northeast 90th and Going is being renovated by a local real estate company and will soon be listed for sale.

It's a victory for the Northeast Portland Sumner neighborhood.

For months, the home was the source of crime, delinquency and frustration. Squatters moved in, drug use increased and trash accumulated.

"You'd come home from work and you'd have 10 sets of eyes on you," neighbor Deb Smith told KATU's Chris Liedle. "I couldn't be out in the yard because it was too creepy."

Squatters essentially gutted the home. Smith says they ripped out the plumbing, stripped metal from the home, punched holes in the ceiling and used the home for stripping cars and storing bikes.

"We just had to ... put one foot in front of the other," Smith said. "We did it!"

In an attempt to address the housing crunch and neighborhood livability, former Mayor Charlie Hales toughened city codes regarding vacant, problem properties, frequently called "zombie homes," within the city.

The new regulations forced homeowners to keep the property in good shape, or else risk losing the property to the city in foreclosure auction.

"The incentive was put forward, that they actually need to act or they will be put on a foreclosure auction block," Portland policy adviser Berk Nelson said. "If they're going to sit idle, then they need to know that there will be ramifications for not keeping the property that they own in good condition."

Nelson says the year-old codes seem to be working. One home is going through the auction process, but in most cases, the property owners decided to pay city violations and sell the home before auction.

"Whatever it was, they came to the plate and finally did their job," Nelson said.

According to public records, Weichert Realtors purchased the home on Northeast 90th and Going for $175,000. A realtor says the new listing price will likely be listed for upwards of $300,000.

Neighbors don't care how much it costs -- the problems are gone.

"It lost all of this plumbing, it lost all of its wiring," neighbor Evan Burton said. "Somebody came in and fixed it up, and they're flipping it or they're doing whatever, but whoever moves into that house is going to love this neighborhood!"

Portland police says there are about 1,000 "nuisance properties" citywide.

Nelson says of that the Bureau of Development Services says 58 homes are considered "zombie homes" and are recommended to be sold at a foreclosure auction.

Burton says the neighborhood will take the win, but he says squatters only moved a few blocks away to another vacant home. Burton plans to keep fighting.

"I think it takes neighborhoods to identify things, to keep them safe until that can happen," Burton said of eradicating zombie homes. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and Sumner squeaks loudly, and we are going to continue to squeak loudly."

Nelson says the system is complaint-driven. The city recommends neighbors to keep alerting police and city leaders to problem properties.

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