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Subprime Mortgage Crisis Devastates Cleveland Neighborhoods 


The subprime mortgage crisis has devastated property values and the quality of life in cities across the United States. In this, the second part of a three part series, VOA's Jeff Swicord takes a look at what the crisis has done to neighborhoods in inner city Cleveland, Ohio.

"Every red dot represents a foreclosure in Cleveland," says, Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis. He says he is feeling the weight of the collapsing subprime mortgage market in Cleveland, Ohio. "As you can see, there are some neighborhoods that literally on every block, you don't have one foreclosure, you have got 20-30 per block," Rokakis said.

In the past five years, Rokakis has seen homeowner equity erased, and entire neighborhoods destroyed, by more than 70,000 home foreclosures across the county.

"What if you are that house in the middle there?" asks Rokakis. "You're not going to sell your house. This is just between 2000 and mid-2007."

Now the county property tax base that pays for schools, roads and other community services is under assault. In 2002, the Ohio cities of Cleveland, Dayton and Toledo passed local ordinances requiring financial counseling for people applying for subprime mortgages. Rokakis says that within two months, the banking industry convinced state lawmakers to approve legislation to override the ordinances.

Community activist Barbara Anderson knows first hand what housing foreclosures do to a neighborhood. When a house is foreclosed and vacated in Cleveland, within days, sometimes hours, so called "scrappers" start ripping the aluminum siding off the house. The price for scrap metal in China and India is at an all time high. Anything metal can be sold on the international market. She points out one house where posts were taken from the first floor of a porch, and the second floor fell in.

"This doesn't look like people officially moved out. This looks like people just got up and left this house and left everything here, and then other people came and just destroyed it," Anderson said.

The scrappers break into the houses, break through the dry wall and rip out the water pipes. Copper wiring and aluminum conduit are ripped out of the ceiling. Metal sinks and appliances are hauled away and sold. What was a foreclosed home in a depressed neighborhood now becomes an empty worthless shell with little to no value.

Rokakis says the real victims are the homeowners who are able to keep their home. "You know who the real victims are? I'll tell you who the real victims are. The real victims are people in neighborhoods throughout Cleveland and the suburbs who played by the rules," he says. "They paid their taxes, they maintained their property, and they woke up one day about six years ago and there was vacant property next to them. And then they woke up a month later and there was one across the street. And another month later, there was another one down the block. Their properties, their entire life savings are tied up in their own home. That is gone. That equity is gone because the house can't be sold!"

For now, Anderson and her neighbors must live next to the aftermath. Jim Rokakis says it will take years if not decades to bring many of Cleveland's neighborhoods back to life.