Boarding up the windows and doors of abandoned houses is like putting out a welcome mat for vandals, squatters, arsonists, drug dealers and other criminals in some U.S. cities struggling with a high rate of foreclosed properties.
The plywood-covered openings invite graffiti and worse for police, firefighters and neighbors.
The problems don't end there for those who live by the ugly eyesores. From unkempt lawns to illegal dumping and metal scrapping, empty buildings add to a neighborhood's deterioration.
The blight can spread like cancer in a community, making a bad first impression on would-be homebuyers, which depresses property values for residents and property tax revenue for local coffers.
But maybe the domino effect can be stopped before that first plywood plank sets it in motion.
Some cities and property managers are finding a new plastic tool in their fight against blight, and it comes in the form of polycarbonate windows. Transparent and virtually unbreakable, PC windows are 200 times stronger than glass, and they can secure unoccupied properties without drawing attention to the vacancies.
The city of Phoenix took a clear stand against blight by banning the use of plywood as a cover for windows and doors of abandoned houses and buildings. The City Council in March approved a local law requiring the use of PC windows in structures vacant more than 90 days.
Elected officials gave the word “board” the boot in Phoenix's amended neighborhood preservation ordinance, which now sets specifications for securing polycarbonate materials on all openings visible from the street.
Los Angeles could be next, according to Brian Potasiewicz, vice president of operations for SecureView, a Cleveland-based company with a PC window manufacturing plant in Mount Vernon, Ind., and 53 U.S. distribution outlets.
Potasiewicz said the market for inconspicuous PC windows as a blight buster is poised for growth with public officials in places like DeKalb County in Georgia being among the first to consider the switch from plywood in late 2013.
“It's in its infancy,” Potasiewicz said in a telephone interview. “The market is just starting. We're finally getting people's attention. Everyone said, ‘Yes, we know plywood's bad but there's nothing we can do about it.' Now there's something they can do. The amount of installations we have continues to climb exponentially as people realize there's an actual alternative.”
Options are good at a time when 9.5 percent of the 133.4 million housing units in the U.S. are vacant, according to U.S. Census figures released in January for the fourth quarter of 2014. That's 12.6 million vacant houses and while most are for rent or sale, some 3.8 million are unoccupied all year for a variety of reasons.
RealtyTrac, another source of housing data, said foreclosure filings, which include default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions, totaled 1.1 million U.S. properties in 2014. That's down 18 percent from 2013 and down 61 percent from the peak in 2010, but far from the 2006 low of 717,522 foreclosure filings.