By Willow Belden
March 12, 2009
 
Many families have been losing their homes as foreclosure rates soar,
but homeowners aren’t the only ones facing problems. Neighborhoods in
Queens with high foreclosure rates have seen an increase in crime over
the past three years, according to a new study conducted by the
Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.

The study focused on Queens, Brooklyn, Nassau and Albany, which
have some of the highest foreclosure rates in New York, and found that
areas with low foreclosure rates tended to see a decrease in crime,
while high-foreclosure rate areas often experienced the opposite.

In Queens, four neighborhoods — Jackson Heights, Rockaway/Broad
Channel, Kew Gardens/Woodhaven and Jamaica/Hollis — have experienced a
rise in crime rates since 2006. Those communities all have high
foreclosure rates.

Neighborhoods in Queens with low foreclosure rates have not seen
crime increase in the past three years, according to the ACORN study.

“Our whole reason for doing this is to try and show more clearly
what the impact of foreclosures is in the city and around the state,”
said Giselle Routhier, who wrote the report.

Routhier said ACORN wanted to show that “foreclosures have a
multitude of effects not just on homeowners but on the neighborhoods in
general.”

“It is common sense that foreclosure and crime go together,” New
York ACORN President Pat Boone said in a prepared statement.
“Neighborhoods are losing residents and gaining abandoned homes,
attracting looters, squatters and criminals.”

In 2008, Queens had an average of 424 more crimes per neighborhood
in high-foreclosure areas than in low-foreclosure areas, according to
the study.

Queens also saw the most dramatic crime rate spike of all the areas
studied, with a 150 percent increase in activity in high-foreclosure
areas since 2006.

ACORN defined high-foreclosure neighborhoods as having more than
one foreclosure for every 158 homes, which it said is the state
average.

The report did not specify the types of crimes that were on the rise, beyond including all major felonies reported to police.

Adjoa Gzifa, chairwoman of Community Board 12, which serves Jamaica
and Hollis, said break-ins have increased in her area as more and more
homes are seized by lenders.

“Because the houses are foreclosed on, the houses are boarded up,”
Gzifa said. “So that leaves them open for people to come in and steal
… whatever is resellable.”

She said that on her block, a house that was left empty after the
owner ran out of money for a renovation was vandalized several times.

Gzifa doesn’t know who is responsible for the crimes, but she said
the theft of copper and steel piping and other materials from empty
houses appears to be an organized operation, not something carried out
by lone individuals.

Donna Clopton, president of the 103rd Precinct Community Council,
which serves as a liaison between the NYPD and residents, had a
slightly different take. Clopton agreed that some of the crimes in her
area are linked to foreclosures but said others don’t seem to be
related.

“People are really afraid of walking home at night” becaue of muggings, she said.

She added that an increasing number of cars are being left on her
block with parts clearly missing, which leads her to believe that the
cars were stolen.

As for break-ins, Clopton said she assumes the perpetrators are
just individuals who are “trying to make a quick buck” — not organized
teams.

The ACORN report cites an earlier study conducted by the Woodstock
Institute, a Chicago-based nonprofit that promotes economic development
in minority and low-income communities, which found that high
foreclosure rates contribute significantly to violent crime rates — but
not to property crime rates.

The Woodstock Institute study found that in addition to
foreclosure, “six demographic variables are statistically significant
determinants of neighborhood violent crime. These include percent
black, percent Hispanic, the proportion below poverty, the proportion
of families headed by single females, the proportion renting, and the
proportion that have moved in the last five years.”

ACORN did not examine most of those factors in its study but did
take income levels into consideration to determne whether rising crime
rates were limited to lower income neighborhods.

Income did not turn out to be a major factor determining crime rates in the areas included in the study, according to Routhier.

ACORN, which works in more than 100 cities across the United
States, advocating for low- and moderate-income families on a variety
of social issues, expressed concern about its findings.

“If the families in high-foreclosure neighborhoods continue to feel
the effects of increased crime, the very foundation of many communities
will begin to deteriorate, both socially and economically,” the report
says. “Stemming from negative effects of displaced homeowners and
abandoned properties, other consequences could also include decreased
property values, classroom disruption as children move in and out of
schools, neighborhood economic deterioration and many multiplying
consequences that result from these.”

The report calls for the state Legislature to place a year-long
moratorium on foreclosure filings, in order to give borrowers time to
negotiate loan terms with their lenders, and a temporary halt on
foreclosure evictions.

ACORN also calls for mandatory loan counseling for homeowners who face foreclosure, as well as tougher standards for lenders.

City Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), whose
district includes Woodhaven, an area analyzed in the study, also hopes
to help homeowners facing foreclosure by educating them about their
options, according to her spokeswoman, Meredith Burak.

Crowley said she also wants more police officers on the streets in neighborhoods that face rising crime.

 
 
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