However, you shouldn’t go screaming for Rick Grimes just yet. The zombie apocalypse infecting Portland is less about shuffling corpses and impending doom. In fact, it’s more of an infection-fighting infection than a blight at all. Its chief aim is to confront head on one of Portland’s most talked about issues right now; the affordable housing market.
You may remember a few months back Mayor Charlie Hales’ attempt to curtail the destruction of old Portland homes via a demolition tax that would have seen a $25,000 levy on any old home destruction in Portland. This would have been tacked on to the top of already rising permit costs for developers and builders building new homes. The bill had immediate and vocal detractors and, as such, saw a very short life before it was quickly struck down.
Hales has taken up his battle ax again and found a much less controversial way to strike at the affordable housing dilemma in the City. He is on a warpath to reclaim what are known as zombie homes – homes that have been left vacant and have not been claimed by the owner, the bank, or the city. These decaying homes often sit, to the despair of their neighbors, for decades and slowly sink into the earth, negatively impacting surrounding property values and straining eyes, or worse, becoming the unwelcome recipient of groups of squatters.
As Hales puts it, “We are the property managers for slumlords, actually worse than slumlords—slumlords actually have paying tenants.”
The reason these properties sit for so long is because the amount of work it takes to get the homes reclaimed is both costly and time-consuming. It often involves forcing the home into foreclosure in hopes that the estranged owner resurfaces to pay the city liens the property has accrued over the years. Or better yet, they don’t resurface and the property can be claimed by the city.
This foreclosure process is one that has not been implemented for over 45 years in Portland but, largely due to Mayor Hales’ efforts, has been resurrected in the city council. In fact, there is already an appointed committee that met April 13th to discuss the potential of foreclosure on the ungainly homes, many of which are in SE Portland. In fact, the Portland Police Bureau’s East Precinct has tagged a total of 375 such homes, though it is uncertain whether or not all of these homes meet the criteria for repossession laid out by the committee.
At this point, they have compiled a list of about 25 properties that meet the council’s criteria. The April 13th meeting was set to discuss 3 of these properties, with more meetings in the future.
One of the City’s ultimate solutions is to use non-profit entities to take ownership of these vacant homes. Once they’ve gone through the foreclosure process they can then renovate them and sell them as affordable housing.
Hales is nothing if not tenacious. It is unclear whether or not his most recent plan to put a dent in the housing debacle will work. It is certainly no easy task, but his continual pursuit of an end goal is admirable; vision is always a becoming quality of an elected official.
You may be asking yourself, “What does a few hundred houses have to do in the fight to keep Portland from following in the footsteps of it’s overcrowded fellow west coast cities”? The answer can be found in the age old adage, “it takes baby steps”. It is continually made clear that, in regards to finding affordable housing in a market whose overwhelming demand would see it put to bed, Portland refuses to go quietly into the night.
Reclaiming these zombified homes may be a small step in the fight for affordable housing, to be sure, but it is a step forward and each step Portland takes deviates us from a course that would allow for very little affordability in the city’s housing market.