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Lehigh Initiative group hears way to improve foreclosed properties

April 18, 2013
By MEL TOADVINE ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Scott Blasie, of Vacant told members of the Lehigh Acres Community Initiative steering committee that he and the association he works for has a plan that will help Lehigh Acres improve its image and the same thing with other areas of Lee County where there are a high volume of foreclosures.

He's talking about homes that have been abandoned and banks have taken them over but have done nothing to maintain the property.

"Grass grows way high and the property goes down. It attracts vandals and people in the neighborhoods find they can't do much about the blight problem," he said. "It's a problem for code enforcement officers, too,"

Article Photos

Scott Blasie

"My organization wants to provide a vacant property registry ordinance for Lee County. Such a law would require banks pay a fee to register with the county when foreclosures papers are served on the homes' owners.

He has presented his idea and plans to the Lee County Commission and says such an ordinance in an area like Lehigh where there are many homes that have been abandoned and are sitting empty with overgrown grass and in many cases, torn up homes after break-ins have occurred inside.

"We work to get banks interested in maintaining their properties to rid the neighborhoods of eyesores. That is where we come in. We take over the property for the banks and maintain the property, even making repairs and maintaining the grounds. At some point, we may be able to sell the property to a 501 (3) group which can pursue the sale to a new homeowner," he said.

Abandoned homes often have appliances that have been stolen or removed from them, mold which has infested the house and more problems. Blaise says his program can bring an end to those problems that the banks in many instances don't care about and in most instances don't maintain homes that they have taken over as foreclosures.

Now Florida has the country's highest foreclosure rate with 3.1 percent of households, or one in 32, receiving a foreclosure-related filing during the year.

He has said that in December, banks filed 472 foreclosures in Lee County, down from 526 in November. And in 2012, Lee foreclosures totaled 7,600 up from 5,585 in 2011.

"We get our data from the County Clerk's Office when a property has been foreclosed on and we go from there by trying to contact the bank to take it off their hands," he said.

"For the banks, it is the 'biggest, badest' tool to deal with when homes are foreclosed on and left without anyone to maintain them," he said.

"We notify the bank as soon as foreclosures are declared with the information we have gathered, just as soon as it hits the courthouse," he said.

"And I have to tell you that despite the slight improvement in the sale of home, foreclosures are going to continue. Just in Lehigh alone, there are presently 2,484 foreclosed homes and more are to come," he said.

"We see ourselves as watchdogs for the banks," he told members of the Community Initiative Steerring Committee last week. Bo Turbeville is chairman of the group. They met in the large conference room at the Sheriff's Bravo Station off of Plaza Drive.

He said Fort Myers has had a vacant property ordinance since 2010 and it has generated more than $260,000 in revenue for the city, according to news accounts.

"We're the pit bulls as soon as property is listed, we go into action and contact the banks and in most cases, they are ready to rid the property and mark it off. We take it and do what repairs we can and then pass it forward for sale," he said. "We find an organization that has 5-1 (C-3) status and convey the property to them to find new owners.

Turbeville told members of the steering committee that at first, he was skeptical but after doing research into the plan, he has seen how advantageous it can be.

Blasie, who is executive liaison and enforcement officer with Vacant Registry, has attended presentations offered to the Realtors Public Policy Committee and the joint meeting of County Code Enforcement.

"This ordinance will help the county fight blight in its communities by forcing banks and property owners to maintain their respective properties," he said.

Needless to say, the Lehigh Acres Community Initiative is a "community building strategy" to encourage residents to set and achieve goals and increase public safety and quality of life with our community.

To that end and because of the Initiative's work, residents have worked diligently to beautify their neighborhoods with the formation of Neighborhood Watch groups and beautification projects, said George Szymanmski of the Neighborhood Restoration and Beautification of the Lehigh Acres Community Initiative.

Banks that own properties in Fort Myers pay $200 to register the property and provide information about who is in charge of maintaining it. The company keeps half the cash and the other half goes to the city.

At the Feb. 18 Lee County Commission meeting, the agenda included a proposed ordinance regarding abandoned and vacant property in unincorporated Lee County and by a majority vote, the commissioners voted to continue a discussion of the proposed ordinance.

Blaise said that on March 15, Real Estate Broker Kirk Beck, toured the area off Leonard Blvd. in Lehigh, taking photographs of nine properties, both singles and duplexes. These pictures revealed the negative impact of abandoned homes in the specific neighborhood which continues to be a high crime area of Lehigh Acres.

Meetings with all the county commissioners is now scheduled for April 30, Szymanski told the steering committee.

"We're going to meet with each one of them individually to hopefully encourage this ordinance for the county. It will be good for Lehigh."



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