MANTECA -- This city at the center of the housing slump took an initial step Monday toward regulating what happens to homes abandoned to foreclosure.
The City Council voted 5-0 for a series of ordinances that require owners to make sure vacant houses are safely secured and remain cared for, or face fines and bills for work.
The ordinance must pass a second vote to become law. Ripon is looking at taking a similar approach.
Manteca Councilman John Harris called it "a good start."
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"This is a nationwide problem," he said before the vote. "I think we are just entering the tunnel, and I don't see any light at the end of it. We have to take some action."
Shuttered homes checker the city. They are distinguishable by their yellow or weed-strewn lawns and padlocked doors.
"We have had significant issues in some of the vacant houses where vagrants moved in, bypassed meters and turned on electricity, and they have become party houses for kids. And it has increased the response from the Police Department," Chief Charles Halford told the council. "(The condition of the homes) tends to degrade property values even more than they are already by the market. So this is an attempt at least to get the homes maintained by the bank and keep the ones in foreclosure maintained."
As of Oct. 1, he counted about 800 houses in some stage of foreclosure. He said 300 houses are owned by banks that have foreclosed on people who couldn't pay mortgages. He said banks are seizing the homes at a rate of 10 to 15 per week.
The proposed ordinance also sets standards for boarding windows. Landscaping would be required to be kept up at homes built after 1993, when the city required landscaping.
Georgianna Reichelt, who regularly attends council meetings, cast blame on the City Council for allowing houses to be built outside the price range that residents could afford.
"If you would stretch your brains back several years, how many times have we said, 'The houses are overpriced. Stop building.' All you would have to do is look with your own eyes," she said.
City resident Joe De Angelis criticized the ordinance as "wrongheaded."
"This is kicking someone when they are down, just adding more problems for them," De Angelis said. "It's wrong."
Halford said a better idea would be to work with banks to see the properties maintained.
The city could try to force homeowners to pay for city-contracted work by placing liens against the property, but it might have a hard time collecting from homeowners because the liens are nullified when foreclosure is completed, Halford said.
Bee staff writer Inga Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 599-8760.