Group Looks to Reduce Number of Abandoned ‘Zombie’ Homes
November 21, 2019
Source: Spokane Journal of Business
A loose group of Spokane professionals has begun working to relieve some of the pressure the area’s housing market is under by bringing “zombie homes” back to life.
Spokane Association of Realtors government affairs director Darin Watkins says zombie homes are so called because they are often the result of a stalled foreclosure. They’re unoccupied and neglected, yet they remain the homeowner’s responsibility. Such homes can turn into nuisance properties overrun with squatters, crime, and neglect.
“They’re a blight on the neighborhood,” Watkins says.
Watkins is part of a group that is informally known as the zombie homes coalition, which comprises about 40 people, including city employees, representatives of nonprofit organizations, real estate agents, and developers.
The coalition began forming about a year ago, after the City of Spokane spotlighted the issue in a video on its website, he says.
In August, the group went through a training program offered through the National Association of Realtors and led by an organization called the Center for Community Progress.
“We brought in some national speakers just to look at ideas that other communities had to try to find ways to transition those houses from being vacant to back on the marketplace,” Watkins says. “We brought a lot of people together that don’t normally talk to each other, and there were some really cool benefits of that.”
Watkins adds, “After we had this training, we all got fired up about what could happen. We said, ‘Let’s stay together and talk about these things.’”
The coalition’s first order of business was to determine how many zombie homes exist in Spokane.
The city of Spokane initially had estimated there were about 1,200.
By examining how many homes have had water service shut off for at least six months, however, the coalition determined that there are about 3,000 zombie homes in the city.
Jason Ruffing, code enforcement officer with the city, says it’s hard to say exactly how many such homes are in Spokane due to a lack of a concrete definition.
“I would be surprised if the number was that high in the city limits, but zombie property can mean many different things to different people, so it can be a hard figure to approximate,” Ruffing tells the Journal via email.
But both the city and the Spokane Association of Realtors agree that those empty homes, however many exist, do nothing to help Spokane’s real estate market to cool down.
“That’s a home that someone could be buying,” he says. “Empty homes don’t help anybody. We’re in a housing crisis in Spokane, by any measure.”
A housing supply of less than four months represents a seller’s market, Watkins says, while Spokane’s supply is currently at about five weeks.
“I don’t see any sign of (the market) slowing,” Watkins says. “That’s the scary part. We’ve been at double-digit (price) growth in this city for five years — it’s unprecedented.”
According to property data company Attom Data Solutions, there are currently more than 1.5 million vacant single-family homes and condos throughout the U.S., representing 1.5% of the total 98.6 million single family homes and condos nationwide.
There are more than 97,000 single-family homes in Spokane, according to U.S. census data; if the zombie homes coalition is right about the number of zombie homes here, 3% of Spokane’s single-family homes are vacant.
Cleaning up zombie homes and getting them back on the market could ease the need for housing, but there are numerous obstacles.
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