St. Paul is hanging out the "welcome" sign for squatters. An article in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune, meant to illustrate how bad the problem really is, makes occupying an abandoned home sound mighty appealing.
"I can almost guarantee you that there are at least 1,000 homes available to squat in," says St. Paul's vacant buildings manager, sounding more like a representative from the Visitor's Bureau. In fact, the number of empty buildings in St. Paul, most of which are homes, jumped from 372 at the end of 2004 to more than 2,000 by 2009, according to the newspaper.
Take this home: "custom-built, 2,600-square-foot house near Battle Creek Park ... splendid, a beautiful combination of blond brickwork, glass blocks and fresh paint ... handsome split-level ... two fireplaces ... sprawling backyard, where deer regularly roam." Sounds lovely. Until recently it was home to squatters who didn't even bother to use the tanning bed in the home's exercise room.
One housing inspector told a story about a homeowner who returned to Nigeria when his house was foreclosed on. The new owner, a bank headquartered states away, wouldn't return her calls. Meanwhile, a woman had moved into the home and was living comfortably, with house plants and an ab workout machine, for six months before the inspector convinced the electric and water companies to shut off services.
Across town, a man appointed himself the landlord of an abandoned six-unit building and actually collected rent checks from other residents. Not a bad gig, if you can get it.
"If the grass is cut and there's not trash collecting in the yard and we're not getting nuisance complaints, we wouldn't know about it," said a city employee. Is that a promise?