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Bleak houses, hard times

Residents can apply for federal grant money

Posted: December 8, 2008 9:02 p.m.
Updated: December 9, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Residents in more than 40 "target areas" throughout the county - including Stevenson Ranch - stand to get a portion of $16.8 million tied to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant approved recently by the county Board of Supervisors.

Part two of a two part series:

Streets in Stevenson Ranch will be darker and bleaker this Christmas.

No Christmas lights are being strung on scores of darkened foreclosed homes that now pepper this affluent community.

On Dickens Court - named after Charles Dickens, who wrote about hard times and homeless people as well as ghosts of Christmas past, present and future - more than half a dozen homes have been abandoned in foreclosures this year alone.

"This is a really terrible situation," said Dickens Court resident Jeck Narciso, who nodded to an empty house across the street as he carried groceries from his car.

"You don't want to think about it, but it's all around," he said. "As long as we're working we're OK."

One day he has a neighbor, the next day he's looking at an empty house, he said.

No goodbye. No discussion.

"It's an awkward situation," he said, adding there's little to say to someone who's lost his house.

Residents in more than 40 "target areas" throughout the county - including Stevenson Ranch - stand to get a portion of $16.8 million tied to a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant approved recently by the county Board of Supervisors.

Residents can apply for some of the grant money on a "first come, first serve" basis.

The money was made available as part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008 passed by Congress in July to stimulate the housing market.

It allows the county, through HUD's Neighborhood Stabilization Program, to enable prospective homebuyers to buy or fix foreclosed properties that might otherwise become sources of abandonment and blight in the community.

Most of the grant money, 65 percent of it, is set aside for first-time homebuyers who earn up to 120 percent of $59,800, which is the county's median income.

This would make buying a home easier for a family of four earning no more than $90,950.

About $4 million, a quarter of the pot, is set aside to assist people earning below the median income.

The median income is defined as the middle point of incomes earned in an area.

For an area to make the list of "target areas," officials with the county's Community Development Commission looked at three conditions:

* An area with the highest percentage of home foreclosures,

* The highest percentage of homes financed by companies offering sub-prime mortgage rates, and

* Those areas identified by the state as likely to face a significant rise in the rate of foreclosures.

Today, more than 60 Stevenson Ranch homes are in foreclosure and 50 more are soon to be added to the list, according to the online data service, which reportedly polls hundreds of foreclosing lenders.

On Dickens Court, a woman who lives two doors from Narciso stands on the sidewalk and points to homes recently vacated.

"That house, that one, the one on the other side of that truck - all foreclosed," she said.

"It's terrible to say, but I feel these people did it to themselves," said the woman, who declined to have her name published. "They bought houses they couldn't afford. It was just keeping up with the Jones'.

"I have little sympathy."

Other parts of Stevenson Ranch appear just as dark as Dickens Court this holiday season.

"Here, normally, on the week of Thanksgiving, this street is lit up from one end of the street to the other," said Wilde Avenue resident Jolene Peterson, referring to Christmas decorations. "This year, five homes on this street have lights."

A couple who lived across from her for more than 10 years just lost their home, she said.

"They were having a lot of trouble trying to sell it. It was on the market two different times. She moved out with most of the stuff. Two weeks later he moved out," she said. "They left it a mess. They walked away from it and left a lot of junk."

A letter posted in the window by the front door warns against trespassing and offers a phone number to report vandalism.

Now, Peterson finds herself protecting the vacated home.

"They probably think I'm an ogre because I've been chasing kids away," Peterson said. "They know it's vacant. Yesterday, they were tearing up the shrubbery. Last week, I had to come out and tell them to quit throwing balls against the garage door."

"It's awful to see a house empty," she said. "I want to see someone move in there."

But, that's not easy, say the people trying to fill those homes.

"There are so many foreclosures, it's unbelievable," said Rhonda Chobanian, a real estate agent with Remax, who has been selling homes in the Santa Clarita Valley for 23 years.

"It's challenging," she said. "In a word, challenging."

Her toughest battle is playing out on Wilde Avenue. She is trying to sell a home there - a house that boasts a big pool and a beautiful view - but appraisers are dropping its value by the thousands of dollars because of foreclosed homes down the street.

"I'm locked in a battle with the appraiser," Chobanian said. "I have an offer on it. I'm trying to get what it's worth but the appraiser comes in far lower than we can go. He looks at the foreclosed home down the street and then lowers the value.

"When the only things for sale out there are foreclosed homes, it really affects Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner," she said.


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