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Published: Saturday, 6/7/2008

Housing agency under fire for 2 properties

BY CHAUNCEY ALCORN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Neighbors say they are tired of looking at the peeling paint, broken windows, and siding at 505 St. Louis. The second-story window and door are not boarded up, which makes it easier for unwanted humans and vermin to get into the dwelling that is now owned by Neighborhood Housing Services. Neighbors say they are tired of looking at the peeling paint, broken windows, and siding at 505 St. Louis. The second-story window and door are not boarded up, which makes it easier for unwanted humans and vermin to get into the dwelling that is now owned by Neighborhood Housing Services.
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In the midst of a national foreclosure crisis, the Toledo-based Neighborhood Housing Services has been buying more houses than it can afford to rehabilitate, Executive Director Bill Farnsel said.

Residents living next to two of the agency's vacant properties say the houses' conditions attract rats and other vermin, as well as thieves and loiterers.

And the neighbors say they're sick of it.

"[NHS] should be prosecuted," said Dave Geoffrion, who lives on St. Louis Street in East Toledo. "They should be forced to live in that house with the rats and the mice and the groundhogs."

The agency is a nonprofit community development corporation that buys foreclosed houses, fixes them up, and offers financing to low-income and middle-income people so they can buy the properties.

In 2005, it bought two houses at 453 and 505 St. Louis St.

"At the point and time we bought them, we thought we would be able to get the financing," Mr. Farnsel said.

But in 2006, when the foreclosure crisis forced the agency to seize many of the houses its delinquent homeowners abandoned or couldn't pay for, the agency didn't have any collateral to purchase lines of credit from local banks.

"We thought we'd be able to access enough credit to do those houses," Mr. Farnsel said. "We can't obtain the credit right now because there's no market."

The 453 and 505 St. Louis St. houses are still vacant after more than two years, even though the agency typically rehabs a house in about a year, Mr. Farnsel said.

The two houses' deteriorating condition is causing problems for the neighborhood.

"[People] congregate on the steps, drinking and smoking weed," said Gail Wahl, who lives next door to one of the homes. "They're always trying to kick in the back door to set the alarm off."

As she carefully walked around the nearly 3 feet of grass and weeds at 453 St. Louis St., Taryn Homer and other neighbors pointed out the peeling paint, collapsing porch steps, broken windows, and garbage on the boarded-up property.

Brenda Conine said the house is notorious for attracting rodents. "There's mice horribly around here," she said. "I've seen people physically break in. I've seen them taking some bricks from the house."

Although he sympathized with neighbors' complaints, Mr. Farnsel denied that the two houses were nuisance properties and said right now, the agency can't afford to pay the $50,000 to $70,000 it would cost to fix them up.

"The bottom line is we're simply out of money," he said. "When you're unable to finance the major renovations, things aren't going to happen as fast as what people expect, but we will work harder to make sure those properties are not perceived as a nuisance."

Neighbors said they've made numerous calls to the city's nuisance abatement department with no apparent results.

Kattie Bond, director of the city's neighborhoods department, said nuisance abatement had issued orders on 505 St. Louis St. as early as 2003 and in July, 2005, issued orders to board up the house.

"From there, an affidavit was probably filed and it was put back in court," she said.

Orders to cut the grass at 453 St. Louis St. date back to 2006, but Mr. Farnsel said both properties were mistakenly exempted from the agency's list.

Contact Chauncey Alcorn at:

calcorn@theblade.com

or 419-724-6168.



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