The 2008 to 2012 global recession resulted in a landscape of abandoned homes in many neighborhoods across the United States due to the crisis that severely impacted the real estate and financial markets. Although very few communities were spared the negative effect of scattered vacant and unmaintained homes, this large spread dilemma impacted many urban areas more significantly as residential property values and socio-economic conditions were already compressed by limited personal household and public resources. But this rise in properties that once were homes to families known and seen to neighbors that now had become edifices of visual neglect, unsafe locations, and prime targets for eventual squatting, created an environment for widespread concern and reaction from all levels of government. At the local government level, one by one, each jurisdiction began adopting new policies and implementing programs in an effort to curtail the problems associated with extended periods of property maintenance neglect caused by the abandonment by owners, and seemingly lackadaisical response by the financial institutions that became responsible for those assets.
Control in a Changing Neighborhood Environment
Code Enforcement agencies immediately responded to the distress calls and complaints from neighbors and community leaders that had become desperate to try to eradicate the problems associated with the conditions of these abandoned homes, but quickly became overwhelmed both by demand for services and funding necessary to provide adequate property maintenance and nuisance abatement. Vacant property registration programs quickly found their way into local legislation that shared common requirements for mortgagees or ‘banks’ to step in after a property was abandoned by their owners and take responsibilities to provide proper responsible party information, local property management, routine maintenance and security. These registration programs, due to the requirements imposed on the banks, actually provided a sense of structure and control that was needed in order for the banks to properly respond and for communities to feel a sense of control. While these programs were highly effective, the slow turnover rate of these properties to new owners, still left neighborhoods with homes that are visibly unoccupied, not well-maintained, and subject to continuous vandalism and trespass.
The economic decline also hit property owners of homes and rentals who walked away from properties where there were no mortgages leaving no interested parties to immediately step in and take responsibility for maintenance adding another level of concern for areas that were already economically depressed and dealing with higher incidents of criminal activity. In a response to citizens to create safer communities and increase livability, one of the theoretical tools used in the practice of law enforcement, the broken windows theory, is making its way into the thinking of how to attain environments free from visual signs of neglect and public nuisances through its application to code enforcement efforts.
The Broken Windows Theory
The broken windows theory is based on the premise that unimpeded disorder in urban communities leads to additional crime and anti-social behavior. This criminological theory was introduced in 1982 by two social scientists, James Q. …