New Foreclosure Risk: Big, Bad Raccoons

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Foreclosures can devastate entire neighborhoods. In addition to leaving people homeless, foreclosed houses that sit empty often fall into disrepair, posing safety risks, lowering property vales and decreasing a community's tax revenues. Now, add a new problem to the list: giant raccoons.

In Chicago, where there have been some 6,000 foreclosure filings since the start of the year alone, hard hit neighborhoods have been overrun by "raccoons as big as orangutans and bolder than ever before," as the the Chicago Sun-Times put it.

The masked marauders (along with occasional squatters of the human variety) move in when their former human occupants move out, and set about terrorizing the neighborhood.

For Wilma Ward, a Chicago resident whose home was invaded by one of the giant critters, it was far from an amusing matter. More like a Stephen King novel.

"I looked down the hallway and I saw a set of eyes...." she told the Sun-Times.

Ward, who lives near two abandoned buildings, told the Sun-Times (and the Chicago City Council's Health Committee) that the robust raccoon managed to claw through the screen on her kitchen window and squeeze its huge body through some window bars. She barricaded herself upstairs for the night until she was sure the nocturnal creature was gone.

The invader was apparently after Ward's dry macaroni. (No wonder why the raccoon's are getting fat--who knew they liked Italian?)

According to Chicago's CBS TV station, one Alderman is demanding a "crackdown" on raccoons, especially in areas of the city overrun by foreclosed properties--and, therefore, empty human nests.

The office of Alderman Bob Fioretti is calling the raccoon invasion a "huge problem" and not just because the nocturnal critters are moving into the vacant homes in droves. Once inside, they are apparently treating the foreclosed homes as sex pads where they are mating up a storm and producing legions of little raccoons.

Even before the housing bubble burst, leading to all the distressed properties, raccoons were a problem in Chicago. As far back as 2003 most of the more than 65,000 service calls made in the city by animal control experts involved raccoons, according to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, as quoted by the TV station.

Apparently there's not much that can be done about the problem since raccoons are protected animals. If they are in someone's home in Chicago, they can be trapped and removed. But outside they are considered wild animals and off-limits.

Well, that doesn't go over well with one Chicago resident, who railed to CBS: "Citizens pay taxes. Raccoons don't pay taxes. We have to live there, they don't have to live there."

One good thing: Of all the raccoons tested for rabies, none has tested positive.

Pretty hard anyway to bust raccoons. They all wear masks making positive identification nearly impossible!

Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think-The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle." He has written about real estate related issues for several years.
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