Foreclosures Spurring Suburban Blight

In Manteca, Calif., police have a new job: patrolling hundreds of foreclosed houses left empty and abandoned. They are half million dollar houses, often bought with nothing down, turned into suburban blight.

To get a firsthand look, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone rode along on patrol with Manteca Police officer Rex Osborn, who explained, "you make one right-hand turn and immediately this is what we see - dead grass, bushes are dying, trees are dying. The next thing you know you have squatters in the house..."

As California house prices soared, cities in San Joaquin County attracted buyers priced out of the San Francisco region. Developers built more than 30,000 new homes in the last six years. But with the spike in adjustable mortgage rates the flood of buyers turned into a flood of defaults - 11,000 in the county in the past 18 months.

Not long ago an overgrown area with a murky pool that Blackstone toured was someone's backyard paradise, but now foreclosure has taken it all away. There and at hundreds of other properties across the county, even the swimming pool has become a hazard - a source of mosquitoes and West Nile Virus.

County workers who used to patrol swamps and streams now do their work in neglected back yards.

But for neighbors the problem that really bites is fast-falling house prices.

Just-retired Corky Hine retired wanted to sell for $400,000. Now it's $339,000 and his real-estate agent still can't get anybody to look.

"I already dropped it $60,000 [from the original appraisal price,]" Hine said. "She said there's like 500 homes for sale within a two-mile radius of mine, and 150 of them are in foreclosure within a mile or something.'"

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In one subdivision, in a single block there are three houses with the tell-tale brown grass.

The sad story of one home is in the papers taped to the door. One notice of forclosure reads: "$7,400 dollars behind in payments." The house will be sold at auction at the county courthouse.

It opened for $464,885.15.

That's way below the $620,000 the house sold for two years ago. Still the auctioneer has a lonely job.

"There's nobody here," Blackstone said.

The auctioneer, Ted Longley, chuckled: "Must not be any money involved in the equity area. I don't know."

"You can't give these houses away," Osborn said.

And neighborhoods are left with the wounds of a mortgage meltdown: the houses nobody wants.

  • John Blackstone

    From his base in San Francisco, CBS News correspondent John Blackstone covers breaking stories throughout the West. That often means he is on the scene of wildfires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and rumbling volcanoes. He also reports on the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley and on social and economic trends that frequently begin in the West.