By Teke Wiggin
The vacant home next to Deborah Jackson's house has been an eyesore and magnet of blight for much longer than the Chicago homeowner would care to remember.
The roof of the empty townhouse, which is connected to Jackson's, is shredded and caved in, causing water to leak through Jackson's walls. Overgrown bushes and bramble peek over the property's four-foot fence, and possums and stray cats -- instead of a nice family -- live inside.
The derelict property, which has been vacant for the better part of 15 years, even appears to pose safety risks. Jackson's granddaughter was once struck in the face by a detached piece of the home's roof; sometimes trespassers pay unsettling visits; and the home is infested with snakes.
"Anytime I see people or have heard people, I would always call the police," she said. "I'm looking at a jungle out here. I can't sit on my patio. My grandkids don't want to visit me because of the snakes."
Unfortunately for Jackson, it's not the only vacant property in close proximity that causes the 59-year-old schoolteacher distress. The home to her left and the two directly across the street from her in the foreclosure-ravaged South Side Chicago neighborhood of Pullman are also unoccupied.
Jackson's story captures the heavy toll that vacant homes can take on their neighbors' quality of life, and, at the same time, it highlights a reality that is galling to residents in hard-hit areas: Many such properties are often left to deteriorate by banks.
Since the housing collapse began, about 4 million Americans have lost their homes to foreclosure, resulting in a persistent glut of vacant homes on the market. Banks and other investors have managed to whittle down this supply somewhat in the past two years.
But according to online foreclosure marketplace RealtyTrac, there are still about 532,000 homes in the possession of banks or government-sponsored investors, and most of them are vacant and not listed. In addition, many of the 950,000 homes that RealtyTrac says are not yet repossessed, but still in some stage of foreclosure, have already been vacated.