Community Columns

Homes in my neighborhood are either empty or full of creeps

It's too early for Halloween, but boy, do I have a scary story. My neighborhood is turning into a ghost town.

I live in a neighborhood of duplexes surrounded by apartments. They used to be nice. Actually, they still are fairly decent buildings. A lot of the duplex owners have been putting in new windows, replacing the wood shingles with asphalt roofs, putting in new carpets and light fixtures, and painting. For the same price as some apartments, the duplexes offer two or three bedrooms, two baths, a garage and a fenced yard. Too bad they are empty.

I walk my dogs every night around the neighborhood, and it's a good thing I have big dogs, because the number of empty buildings is starting to get a little frightening.

My building is occupied, then there are three empty units before the next occupied building. The apartments at the end of the block should have "For Rent" signs carved in wood, for the apartments facing the street and the parking lot along the alley are all empty.

Two blocks over, out of 40 or so units, only five are occupied. The moms waiting at the school bus stops tell me the apartment complex farther down is less than 30 percent occupied.

I don't blame the residents for moving out of this neighborhood. I grew up in Los Angeles, but I never had to deal with so many drug dealers, gang members, and crazy people before I moved to the valley.

Growing up, we never had someone blow up an empty unit on Christmas morning with a Molotov cocktail because someone was not there to either receive or dispense. We never had a gang shooting down the block like the recent one at 3 a.m. on a Sunday. We never had a guy get stabbed just walking down the street. We never worried about getting jumped riding our bicycles down the block, like the poor guy a few months ago. We never had the police shoot an attacking pit bull, as happened two months ago. And we certainly never had to hear car stereos blasting at 3 a.m. every night.

I don't blame my friends for moving to the new houses north of town or taking advantage of a job opportunity north of Sacramento or moving to a bigger house with a bigger yard in Winton. I am happy that good things have come their way. But the void they have left behind looks like it will linger for a long time.

The good thing out of the economy is that rents should drop back to the reasonable levels of five years ago. The bad thing is, with all of the gang and drug activity in my neighborhood, the good tenants are looking to move to those new houses instead.

We are here until we clear more of our debt, or find something reasonable in the foothills. It looks like we will be in this ghost town for a while.

I told you it was a scary story.

Yvonne Holt is a wife, mother and student at Merced College. E-mail her at