It seems hard to believe, but there appears to be yet one more thing for which we can blame the mortgage crisis. And this is not a financial problem; it is a public health concern.
Several cable networks have reported over the last few weeks that the hundreds of foreclosed houses covering suburban neighborhoods may be contributing to the spread of the West Nile virus.
This is particularly true in warmer areas such as California, Arizona, Florida, and Nevada where homeowners tend to have a lot of outdoor playthings, chiefly swimming pools.
The pools, even if they had been drained for the winter, are collection spots for rainwater. The pools are not used, the water is not treated, and, instead of refreshing, cool aqua spots in which kids splash and where adults gather for cookouts, they are now dirty, brackish, maybe even bright green with algae. But these pools are prime breeding spots for the West Nile transmitting mosquito.
The West Nile virus does not make most people very sick, but several dozen have died in the few years it has been reported as a threat, and there have been incidents recorded of paralysis and other permanent disabilities.
CNN reports that Orange County, California alone may have as many at 1,500 pools located on properties that have been foreclosed, and while public health authorities are not sure to what extent they are encouraging the growth of the mosquito population, it only stands to reason that there is some impact, at least from a nuisance standpoint.
Banks and real estate agents who have not utilized the energy to secure the houses or mow the lawns are certainly not going to spend time and money to drain and cover pools and, even if the West Nile threat is insignificant, the increase in shear numbers of insects will make for a miserable fall and spring.
In addition to the pools, abandoned and neglected property has other water hazards; a kiddie pool left in the backyard, fish ponds, bird baths, a vertically hung tire swing, all have the capacity to catch and hold sufficient water to cause concern.
Cities and towns that fear a possible epidemic say they have little choice but to clear and/or treat the source at taxpayer expense even though it is the responsibility of the banks. This will not be as easy as it once was, as many of the effective mosquitos and larva sides are now prohibited for use because of their own possible public health problems or will stir up such protests from the community that municipalities dare not use them.
In the 1990s when banks and the FDIC stonewalled condo associations over HOA fees on foreclosed houses, affected states did not hesitate to pass super lien laws that gave the association the ability to levy senior liens for unpaid fees on the units. These liens took precedent over all others except taxes and the financial institutions shaped up pretty quickly. It is past time that legislation is passed to allow senior liens for the costs of securing property, keeping it from further deterioration, clearing out squatters and drug dealers and so forth. If the banks do not pay the bills the towns can foreclose, wipe out the banks' mortgages, and sell the homes to residents or investors at whatever price the market will bear sufficient to recoup taxpayer's losses and get the properties up and running again.