Home foreclosures continue across the country, and helping cities halt the cycle of decay and disinvestment that comes with widespread property abandonment needs to be a top priority of the new White House Office of Urban Affairs, says Justin Hollander, assistant professor at Tufts University's Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning.

Hollander would like to see the OUA promote a "watch and reuse strategy."

"It begins with local officials monitoring both foreclosure filings and real estate listings where homes are assessed at values lower than recorded mortgages on those properties," Hollander says. "This watch list can serve as the basis for a volunteer-led effort by local neighborhoods to track which structures in the areas are unoccupied, and local law enforcement can use it as a tool to enforce public safety and nuisance concerns that may emanate from unoccupied structures."

From there, local officials could develop a strategy to protect and maintain the buildings. "A critical piece of this proactive strategy would have to be detailed plans for addressing those unoccupied structures where there is no longer an active real estate agent or property owner," Hollander says. "These 'orphans' can cause the greatest threat to neighborhood security as they are subject to arson, squatters and vandalism. For those orphan sites, local officials must take bold steps to protect, maintain, occupy or even demolish them before they begin to have a blighting effect on their surrounding neighborhoods."

Hollander proposes that OUA create a much-needed coordinating point, directing local officials to resources and working to change federal programs to better suit the needs of urban areas. He also proposes that OUA can help cities craft foreclosure-coping strategies, share best practices and push for the implementation of those strategies when local officials may be reluctant. "We need the full force of the White House offering leadership from the top and understanding this problem could destroy urban communities," he says. "The problem is, it is bad news, and no politician wants to say the sky is falling. But the sky is falling."

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