Sometimes the garbage comes up to Kyle Caluya's knees. Sometimes the flies are so thick that the wiry building inspector can hear them buzzing even before he enters an abandoned home.
"And the smell," Caluya said. "It knocks you over."
Few people experience the dirty underbelly of the home foreclosure crisis on a daily basis like Caluya, one of four field inspectors assigned to the city of Sacramento's vacant building program.
Launched in 2007 to combat urban blight, the program has grown from three employees and about 200 cases to a team of eight. There are now more than 500 cases, and Caluya said about 90 percent of those are foreclosed properties.
"It got worse with the foreclosure crisis," said Pat Melanson, the program's supervisor. "We just never got caught up. We are always behind."
The department sends letters to the "owners of record" and banks to inform them of the violations and penalty fees. But recipients often do not respond, said Ron O'Connor, code enforcement's operations manager.
The vacant buildings are susceptible to vandalism, theft and fires often set by transients trying to keep themselves warm. The inspectors secure the buildings, boarding them up – sometimes for a second or third time — to keep squatters out. Each building has to be inspected every 30 days to make sure it is not a hazard to the neighborhood.
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