It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why derelict properties are a bad thing. One house can bring down an entire block, and then the whole street, and then a community. Like a set of dominos, the broken window syndrome happens when we stop caring about things like trash and blight, and worry about only the “big” issues like drug dealing. They go hand in hand.
You have a seemingly normal block on a residential street in any neighborhood across this city. One of the homes is vacant, yet looks tidy from the outside. One day, a window is broken. The window stays broken, because the owner either doesn’t know about it or doesn’t care enough to fix it. Trash starts to pile up around the house, because again — the owner either doesn’t know about it or doesn’t care.
A few weeks later, another window is broken, and the neighbors start to complain. “It’s an eyesore!” “Someone needs to do something about that window and that trash!” A few neighbors call 311, and still nothing happens for a few more weeks. The owner is finally cited, he comes out to the house, boards up the windows and moves on. He’s had it — there’s nothing that can be done about the house. The housing market is on a decline, he’ll never get back what he paid for it, and “those people deserve whatever they have coming to them, what were they thinking moving into a neighborhood like that anyway?”
A month later, addicts break into the house. It’s winter now, and they need a place to stay. The place is completely stripped of anything of value, what with the broken windows. Anything that wasn’t bolted to the floor was stripped out as soon as someone pried the nails from the boarded-up windows. The addicts are only looking for a way to get out of the cold and the damp, a hidden place to do their drugs and forget their troubles, if only for a short while. The neighbor across the street sees the addicts come and go, and she’s beginning to notice some dealers loitering on the corner. “Hm. Didn’t used to see stuff like that on this block”, she says to herself. “Damn shame to see the neighborhood going down.” She calls the police and attends a couple of neighborhood association meetings, but nothing happens until one night, the house catches on fire.
The addicts were using candles to cook their dope, and to stay warm. One of them knocked over a candle, and it ignited some of the trash that was scattered about the floor. Thankfully, the addicts managed to escape alive, but the house is now in full blaze, and it’s threatening to take over the two houses attached to it. The fire trucks come, the police arrives, but it’s too late to save the houses. The original subject of this tale is completely gutted, and the two next to it have been deemed unsafe by the Fire Inspector. The people living in those two houses have to leave immediately, and they’ve lost most of their possessions. A total of three adults, five children, and two pets suddenly have nowhere to go.
The lady across the street thinks to herself “The neighborhood is changing, and not for the better.” She calls a realtor. She lists her house. She is surprised to hear that her neighborhood is being described as “Hot Hot Hot!” and wonders if the realtor is being ironic. The drug dealers are happy because they now have a place to send their customers, and they set up shop on each corner. The owners of the burned-out houses take the insurance money and buy homes in another neighborhood. They don’t want to fix their houses, because the drug dealers are running the show now. Propery crimes have gone up dramatically in just a short time…maybe a year or two, because addicts tend to steal when they need money, and the drug dealers on this street won’t extend credit. The lady who used to live across the street is glad she got out when she did, otherwise who knows what would have become of her?
The man who owned the house that started all of this doesn’t care. He didn’t live in the neighborhood anyway, the property was just an investment. A way to cash in on the housing “boom” which went bust. He took a loss on his taxes and washed his hands of the ordeal. Most of the other houses on the block are now for sale, some are now vacant. With broken windows. And so the cycle continues.