Saturday, March 7, 2009

Free Press: Neighbors protecting vacant homes

There was a nice article from John Gallagher in today's Detroit Free Press, featuring myself and a few neighbors:

Neighbors work to protect vacant homes

That's me and my patrol shift partner D.C. in the pictures, along with Steve who normally does a different shift, but joined us on this day. D.C. & I patrol every other Sunday, two hours at a time, as part of our neighborhood volunteer citizens patrol.

Most of our patrol usually involves checking up on vacant homes and doing minor upkeep, as described in the article. This seems to give us the biggest bang for the buck as far as helping our neighborhood goes, vacant homes are our biggest issue, and we don't usually happen to see much in the way of random criminal activity on a 2-hour patrol, especially on a Sunday morning!


Neighbors work to protect vacant homes


Longtime Detroit resident Marsha Bruhn was in the hospital for knee surgery last year when a neighbor called to tell her the vacant house next to her home had been broken into yet again.

A homeowner in the proud old North Rosedale Park district, Bruhn described the call as her "I'm mad and not going to take it anymore" moment.

First, she bought the foreclosed house from the bank. Then she poured tens of thousands of dollars into a new kitchen, lighting and other improvements. She sold it recently for a modest profit to a young family who are now her neighbors.

In this way, Bruhn plugged one hole in the fabric of regional life.

Across southeast Michigan, people are fighting back against a foreclosure crisis that has touched about 60,000 residences in Detroit alone, and many more in suburban areas, according to estimates from government, nonprofit and real estate experts.


"A very big issue is how homes look from the street," said Steve Wasko, an Indian Village resident and spokesman for Detroit Public Schools who routinely patrols his neighborhood making minor repairs to vacant homes.

In Detroit neighborhoods such as Boston-Edison and Indian Village, citizen volunteers plant flowers at vacant houses, mow the lawns and take turns parking their cars in the driveways to make the vacant homes appear occupied.

Volunteers hang curtains in vacant windows and install motion detectors in empty houses to catch burglars in the act, with several arrests recorded in Indian Village alone.


On a bitingly cold morning last Sunday, three volunteers from Indian Village, Doug Way, D.C. Moore, and Wasko, braved the frigid temperatures to fight blight on one of their regular neighborhood patrols.

They boarded up windows at two vacant homes in Indian Village and conducted a makeshift repair of a garage door hanging askew.

At a vacant home, Wasko and Way used a power saw to trim some plywood to fit over a vacant window while Moore quipped about their "Old World craftsmanship."

Once screwed into place, the plywood would keep out casual entry and make the house look more secure.

"An open window says, 'Crawl through me,' " Moore said. "There's a lot of crime of opportunity that, if we make the opportunity more difficult, you don't get the crime."

Motion detectors placed inside vacant homes have been particularly helpful, Wasko said. When the detector signals that someone is inside a vacant house, a neighbor alerts other residents and police.

"By the time the guy realizes he's been caught, the place is surrounded," Wasko said.