Community Columns

Progress of housing bubble's burst: Foreclosures, messy yards, mosquitoes

You've got to hand it to the subprime marketeers. They've managed to do what the dot-com debacle only flirted with: drag the entire nation into what amounts to an economic "swirly." Even folks with impeccable credit ratings are getting the gimlet eye from potential lenders, who were major contributors to the bursting bubble in the first place.

And those of us lacking the hubris to think we could buy into the American dream, or too young to even consider it, will continue to be affected. This mess stinks on many levels, and fiscal stagnation is a noxious gift that keeps on giving. Here's how.

While lien holders on foreclosure properties may be attentive to the cosmetic aspects of maintaining empty homes, keeping front yards well-manicured in anticipation of a market turnaround, some are very cavalier about the portions of property that can't be seen from the street. Thus, standing water, overgrowth of weeds or, in the unkindest cut of all, untended backyard ponds and pools, are creating mosquito nirvana. The temperature hasn't even approached optimum for hatching, but as of February, the East Side Mosquito Abatement District had seen an increase of 200 percent in reports of potential hatching sites.

There are more than you might think, thanks to developers building high-end homes rather than reasonably affordable housing. As a result, we have pools, spas and koi ponds galore going green with algae and larvae. Once the temperature reaches the 80s, the problem becomes airborne and beyond our control. It's not just a nuisance; it's a health hazard.

The district is funded primarily by property taxes, but with so many foreclosures and back taxes piling up, now what? Their not-so-secret weapon is the tiny Gambusia affinis, or mosquito fish, which they raise themselves. Once released, these little fellows have themselves a gorge-fest on larvae, but they need to know where the party is.

To narrow things down, this particular party could be anywhere within Stanislaus County north of the Tuolumne River, a territory of approximately 520 square miles, which includes Modesto, Empire, Salida, Oakdale and Knights Ferry. That's toting a heavy load under ordinary circumstances, and they need to know where the hot spots are.

Nobody wants the carriers of West Nile virus or, in rare cases, insect-borne encephalitis breeding in their ex-neighbor's back yard, but that's exactly what can happen when properties go without maintenance, and conditions indicate that mosquitoes are likely to have an excellent summer.

It's up to us to report our concerns to the mortgage holders, Realtors and the Abatement District office. Failing that, the stench of fiscal corruption soon may be outstunk by the reek of our insect repellent.

Wolford is a Modesto resident. E-mail her at