Shannon Buggs
June 2, 2008

ANOTHER sign of the broke-down economy: more crime.

When a neighborhood has 2.8 foreclosures for every 100 owner-occupied properties in a year, violent crime in the immediate area goes up 6.7 percent, according to a study by researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Chicago-based Woodstock Institute.

The same researchers found in a different study that owners of single-family homes lose 0.9 percent of the value of their houses for every foreclosed property within a city block of their residences.

Basically, foreclosures in your neighborhood make you less safe and less wealthy. But you don’t have to be a sociologist to know that a boarded-up house is a magnet for trouble.

Burglars stole anything of value they could carry out of the vacant house across the street from mine a few months ago.

Now my neighbor is fixing it up for a tenant to live there.

The statistics, however, do validate those sneaky suspicions we’ve all had that the trashing of the American Dream by a portion of the mortgage industry has hurt us all.

Foreclosures erode property values, decrease property tax bases, reduce social services and threaten physical safety.

Foreclosed and other vacant homes are not just the responsibility of the owner. Neighbors should monitor the upkeep of those residences and call the owners whenever the property falls into disrepair or someone suspicious is hanging around it.

Not only do criminals break into vacant homes to steal copper piping and air-conditioning units, they also take advantage of would-be residents.

Thieves sometimes break the locks of foreclosed property, install new ones, list the property in newspaper or Web classified listings and then fraudulently rent out the house.

If you don’t know an empty home’s owner or how to contact that person or company, find the information through county public records.

In Harris County, that is as easy as going to, the Web site of the Harris County Appraisal District.

Homeowners and renters also should be careful about speaking to door-to-door salespeople.

A man has been trolling my neighborhood selling home alarm systems, approaching homes that do not have signs alerting the public that they are already protected.

He might be legitimate, but he also might not be. There’s no reason to take a chance by answering his questions.

If you want an alarm system, call a reputable, well-established service.

The Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston keeps a list of its accredited firms in its searchable database under the title "security control equipment and system monitors."

The Houston Police Department also suggests:

– When traveling, keep your home looking lived-in by having grass cut, mail and newspapers picked up and lights turned on and off.

– All exterior doors of a home should be of metal or solid wood and equipped with a deadbolt lock with a minimum of a 1-inch throw and a heavy-duty strike plate secured with 12-gauge, 3-inch screws.

– Install secondary locking devices on all windows, which come with latches, not locks.

– Secure gates on fenced yards with padlocks.

– Use an installed alarm system while you are away from home or sleeping and make sure your alarm callback list is up to date.

– Remove all valuables from vehicles and lock them after exiting.

Increased crime is a symptom of a faltering economy, but we shouldn’t make it easy for thieves to take our property or violate our personal spaces.

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