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How One City Battles Foreclosures and Crime

Posted by: Chris Palmeri on July 29, 2009

Lancaster, California, a city of 145,000 people about 60 miles north of Los Angeles, is among the hardest hit in the nation by the housing bust. Home prices have fallen from an average of $320,000 in 2007 to $122,000 today. More than 5,000 homes in the city are in some stage of the foreclosure process.

History shows those empty houses are magnates for crime, drug dealing and other nefarious activities. Which is why Lancaster is cracking down on gangs and applying for $5 million in federal stimulus funds to buy up and resell abandoned homes at reduced prices so families can live in them. “The trick is keeping the neighborhoods filled with homeowners,” says Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris.

pitt bull.jpg

In January Parris pushed through a city ordinance requiring that pit bulls and other vicious dogs be neutered. Why pick on pit bulls? Gangs had been breeding them in abandoned homes and using them to terrorize residents.

The city has taken other steps to fight crime: Picking up truant kids so they don’t end up with gangs. Lancaster recruited more citizens for neighborhood watch programs after finding people are more comfortable reporting a crime or suspicious activity to a neighbor than to the police. The city also came up with the money to hire more sheriffs. Law enforcement officials are also sending out warning letters to kids suspected of running with a bad crowd. Says Parris: “We’ve become totally intolerant of any kind of gang acitivity.”

It’s working. Despite all those empty homes, Lancaster saw a 25% decrease in crime in the first half of this year, exactly the opposite of what you’d expect.

Reader Comments

James Wiley

July 29, 2009 11:05 AM

That would be "magnets", rather than "magnates", and the dog pictured would be offended to be mistaken for a Pit Bull...

James Wiley

July 29, 2009 11:05 AM

That would be "magnets", rather than "magnates", and the dog pictured would be offended to be mistaken for a Pit Bull...


July 29, 2009 1:11 PM

What? They're neutering truants?


July 29, 2009 2:26 PM

So do you think that pit-bull neutering ordinance will work? How exactly are "vicious dogs" defined? For that matter, how are "pit bulls" defined? "Pit bull" is not a breed. Pit bull terriers, American bulldogs, American Straffordshire Terriers, and mutts are all often called "pit bulls", but they are all different breeds. Also, do you feel that people who are fighting dogs (a felony) will care about defying an ordinance?

I appreciate the effort, but sometimes I feel these ordinances are put through with little thought. At least they didn't ban pit bulls altogether, as many cities do. When that happens, dogfighters just use whatever breed is next in line, and law-abiding familes who own the banned breed are punished.

I would prefer to see police walking the beat, staying well-informed on the activities of each neighborhood, and cracking down on animal abuse and neglect. Stop allowing for rotating-door prison for people who fight dogs. Creating an ordinance for neutering is resolving a symptom, not the disease.


July 29, 2009 2:54 PM

Some bank or other lender OWNS these empty houses that are indeed magnants for crime. Why is the city letting them off the hook?

In california police officers start with six figure salary and benefit packages and then retire, early, at 90%. This is the main reason virtually every city and county in California is now insolvent.

Why should taxpayers have to dig themselves even deeper in the hole to clean-up after and protect the property of banks?


July 29, 2009 2:55 PM

I realize that crime is a problem that comes with large amounts of foreclosures, but how does the city intend to create jobs or other things for those young people to do? If they can't find work, then being in a gang or going to jail seem to be their only options. Increased law enforcement is only part of the solution.

Peter H. Christiansen

July 29, 2009 2:59 PM

Hopefully this approach will not catch on.

Police officers in California start at six figures including benefits, and retire, early, at 90%. This is the main reason why nearly every city and county in Californi is now insolvent.

Everyone of these houses is owned by a bank or other lender. Why should taxpayers have to pay to clean-up after and protect banks which caused this mess?


July 29, 2009 3:00 PM

awesome, break out the arsenal if ya have to. people takin their town back. glad to see it. once gangs see that the residents dont take no crap, they back off. gangs are like children. they see how far they can take things before they get flagged...


August 1, 2009 11:36 AM

Police officers in California do NOT start at six figures. That is an utter fallacy. To suggest that law enforcement is the CAUSE of California's budget crisis is ridiculous.

If anyone cares to look honestly at California's budget mess - correcting the blind-eye sanctioning of massive entitlements for illegal aliens would solve an enormous percentage of the problem. Education, health care, assistance programs, and not receiving proper taxes in return is the main culprit of the budget woes. The balance is largely waste.

Cleaning up and protecting the vacant properties, ridding them of squatters and gangs is not intended to be for the benefit of the bank. It is for the benefit of the community, the residents, the tax payers who live here. This is a quality of life issue. I applaud the City's tough stance, and hope to see more tax payers encouraging their community leaders to do the same.

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BusinessWeek editors Chris Palmeri, Prashant Gopal and Peter Coy chronicle the highs and lows of the housing and mortgage markets on their Hot Property blog. In print and online, the Hot Property team first wrote about the potential downside of lenders pushing riskier, "option ARM" mortgages and the rise in mortgage fraud back in 2005—well ahead of many other media outlets. In 2008, Hot Property bloggers finished #1 in a ranking of the world's top 100 "most powerful property people" by the British real estate website Global edge. Hot Property was named among the 25 most influential real estate blogs of 2007 by Inman News.

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