Tired of looking at foreclosed properties in Southeast Queens, many of which have become neglected and overrun with trash, one nonprofit decided to make a symbolic statement on March 17 and brought garbage from an unoccupied house to the Jamaica bank it says caused the mess.
Members of the Queens chapter of New York Communities for Change cleaned up the trash from the lawn of 109-31 157St. in Jamaica and delivered it to CitiBank at 168-48 Hillside Ave., which the group said foreclosed on the property in 2010, citing data from Property Shark, a real estate listing website.
Mark Rodgers, however, a spokesman for the bank, said in an email Tuesday that it appears the house has not been foreclosed on yet, and added, “We are limited in what we can do as non-owners. CitiMortgage strives to maintain homes and make repairs on foreclosed properties to assist in preserving the integrity and stability of neighborhoods.”
NYCC brought the trash into the bank and left it there for about 15 minutes as one of the group’s organizers spoke about the ills of the foreclosure crisis, Sam Lewis, a NYCC member said Wednesday. Then the police told them they would have to remove the garbage and bring it out to the curb, which they did, Lewis said, or they would have been fined.
The litter from abandoned properties attracts rodents and other vermin, and creates an environment that is conducive to crime, according to NYCC, leaving homeowners who remain in the neighborhood to face decreasing property values.
“Since the economy collapsed and I was laid off, I have struggled to pay my mortgage,” Tikhia Williams, a member of NYCC, who lives around the corner from the 157th Street house, said in a prepared statement. “There are already two vacant homes on this block. It pains me to think that if I lose my home, that it will become a blight on the community.”
More than 11 million Americans owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, according to NYCC, and Southeast Queens has a foreclosure rate three times higher than the state average.
“The banks who caused the financial crisis should be taking responsibility for these properties,” NYCC member Jean Sassine of Queens Village said in a prepared statement. “If they can’t, then they should leave them in the hands of families who would be happy to.”
City Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Jamaica), who represents the district where the house is located, said he thinks it’s a good idea to come up with creative ways to raise awareness about the foreclosure crisis as long as they do not break the law.
“We need to bring as much attention to this issue as possible,” he said. “It was used as a political football by a lot of political figures during election time, and now this issue is being hung out to dry.”