Foreclosures hit Brooklyn Park especially hard

Rehabbing foreclosed properties
Robert Engstrom, right, and Mike Uzelac talk about the work needed at a home in Brooklyn Park, Minn. Wednesday, August 25, 2010. Robert Engstrom Companies is one of several developers and contractors that have joined in a partnership with the city of Brooklyn Park to rehabilitate foreclosed properties in the community.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

In the north metro suburb of Brooklyn Park, the foreclosure crisis has hit both older neighborhoods and newer developments. As the problems have rippled out from the urban core, Brooklyn Park, with more than 70,000 people, has suffered one of the highest foreclosure rates in the metro.

Despite the city's efforts to speed recovery, many neighborhoods are still dotted with for sale signs and empty homes.

Homeowner Ami Prewett has lived in Brooklyn Park for 15 years. She has a map in her head that shows how the housing crisis has affected her neighbors.

"Down this road here there are two foreclosures between here and the cross street down there," said Prewett. "This one back here was in foreclosure a couple of years ago, and from here on -- this month there were five in a row."

Prewett says she and her husband are keeping up with their mortgage, and they're hoping that over time they'll get back the equity they've lost as home values have taken a nose dive.

But Prewett is concerned about some of her neighbors who haven't been as lucky. Many of them have lost jobs, lost their homes and moved away.

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"It just seems obvious to me that the value of these homes and these people's lives are being dashed by not having people in the homes," said Prewett.

Rehabbing foreclosed properties
Steven Schendel of Finishes 99, Inc. paints cabinet doors at a home in Brooklyn Park, Minn. Wednesday, August 25, 2010. The home is one of dozens of foreclosed properties in the community being rehabilitated.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Prewett lives in the southern half of Brooklyn Park, which has seen most of the city's foreclosures. But the problem is not limited to that area.

Nearly 1,000 homeowners have fallen behind on their mortgages since January. City officials say Brooklyn Park is on pace to have more than 750 foreclosures in 2010. That's up slightly from last year.

But Richard Zierdt, executive director of the Community Action Partnership of Suburban Hennepin, thinks that's a low estimate.

If foreclosures keep pace with delinquencies, Zierdt says that more than 1,000 people could lose their homes this year. He says the foreclosure crisis is taking a toll.

"People moving always causes a community some trauma," said Zierdt. "And people moving in and out of a community, especially as you reestablish your social groups, your city services, your whole city demographic."

As more people have lost homes, Brooklyn Park has seen a steep increase in single family homes for rent.

Rehabbing foreclosed properties
Claudio Contreras loads a sink into a dumpster outside a home in Brooklyn Park, Minn. Wednesday, August 25, 2010. Contrers' employer, Robert Engstrom Companies, is one of several developers and contractors that have joined in a partnership with the city of Brooklyn Park to rehabilitate foreclosed properties in the community.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Five years ago, there were about 500 single family rentals in the city. This year, city officials say there are about 1,800. The trend worries city officials.

After some neighborhoods saw problems with irresponsible landlords or tenants, the city cracked down. Now, anyone seeking to rent out a single family home must be licensed and complete a landlord class.

Community development director Robert Schreier says the city also works closely with police and communities to identify and secure vacant homes.

"I think Minneapolis likes to say that you go down a block and you have a few occupied homes, and the rest are vacant. We didn't want to get to that point, so we wanted to keep our neighborhoods viable," said Schreier.

He says this agressive approach has kept crime from rising.

A few miles north, resident Andy Nyheoe is skeptical that any program can keep up with the housing crisis. His large home is one of the few that are still occupied on his cul de sac.

"I get worried about the value of my house. Right now it's going down, and those houses being vacant, you don't know. Criminals can decide to come in and live there, so I feel uncomfortable when I see houses getting foreclosed on in my neighborhood," he said.

Nyheoe's development was built during the housing boom, when land was relatively cheap and jumbo loans were easier to come by. Today, his neighborhood is quiet. Many of the homes here have been foreclosed more than once.

Nyheoe, 43, took advantage of the drop in housing values when he bought about two years ago.

"It was a good deal because the house was foreclosed."

He says his house originally sold for more than $700,000, but he got it for less than half that. It was a great deal, but there was a problem. He couldn't sell his previous home, so now he's also a landlord.

Nyheoe is hoping his family will be able to ride things out until the market turns around. His new home has already lost value.

"The value has gone down so far that it has gone beyond what I paid for the house. Within less than two years I can say that it lost about $40,000," he said.

But some housing experts think things may soon turn around. Brad Fisher, president of the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors, says signs of recovery are already spreading out from the urban core, just as the foreclosure crisis did a few years ago.

"I think we have stabilized, and we are not seeing a continued decrease. We are starting to see more stability throughout the whole metro area," he said.

Fisher says median home sales prices stopped declining in July. But his association also reported that pending sales were down.

The entire Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area is struggling, but Fisher says there's no place left to go but up.