Area man boarded up in his own house: A new strategy to protect cities?

While Ted Poetsch has lived in the same Minneapolis home for his entire life, he didn't want to be boarded up within its walls. However, on May 12, that's exactly what happened.

Following a protracted battle with the city over foreclosure and the deteriorating state of his property, Poetsch finally ran out of options, and it became clear that he would have to leave. On his last day in his home, he busily packed a few belongings, hoping to save some necessities before he had to leave. However, while he was finishing up his last-minute preparations, inspectors from the city boarded up his windows and doors, imprisoning him inside.
While Poetsch's tale reads like something out of Edgar Allan Poe, it also has more than a touch of Dickens. According to one source, his home was paid off before he was born, but he decided to take out a mortgage to clear up some credit debt and fix his roof. As with so many of his fellow homeowners, Poetsch fell behind on payments and ownership of his house eventually passed to Fannie Mae.

One of the most tragic parts of the current foreclosure/eviction narrative is the moment when a cherished house loses its owner and becomes a target for vandalism or theft. A central myth of home ownership is that living places are somehow sacrosanct, that they are safe spaces that are protected against the intrusions of the outside world. Nothing bursts that bubble faster than a forced eviction.

For Ted Poetsch, forced eviction became a quick lesson in the vulnerability of an unoccupied property. When he returned to his house three weeks after his eviction, thieves had already begun to strip the house of lighting fixtures. While they left most of his personal property, it was clear that his home had quickly begun the process of transforming from a habitable structure into a wreck.

Urban theorist Richard Florida has floated the idea of renting foreclosed properties as a way of protecting the market and avoiding painful evictions. In this vein, Poetsch offered to pay rent to live in the house, but was turned down by the city of Minneapolis. As JoAnn Velde, a city representative pointed out, "We don't want tenants living in properties where we don't have anyone responsible for the maintenance of the property [. . .] it threatens the occupants or the tenants." In all likelihood, however, Poetsch's boarded-up house will attract derelicts, vandals and more robbers.

As Poetsch's tale demonstrates, the financial crisis has cast homeowners, banks, and cities in a hopeless, fatalistic passion play. We all know how this story ends: tenants relentlessly cling to their homes while banks and municipalities force them out. Of course, the issues are clear: delinquent homeowners must be evicted and foreclosures must take place. However, as everyone acts out their pre-determined roles, houses remain empty and neighborhoods turn into ghost towns. In the end, the only people who benefit are the robbers who steal fixtures and the squatters who have a place to stay.
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