Taxpayers Spending $40 Million Per Year To Mow Lawns Of Foreclosed Houses

The foreclosure crisis is costing you money.

How much, exactly, depends on a number of factors -- whether you own a house, what your property is worth -- but if you pay taxes in America, you're definitely putting up some cash no matter what.

That's because the government owns almost 200,000 vacant houses, and it needs to keep them looking presentable if they have any chance of selling the homes. That means painting, yard work and general upkeep -- all costs covered with tax dollars.

As unwelcome as these expenses might be, the alternative -- letting those vacant properties fall into disrepair -- is arguably even worse. A house with peeling paint and uncut grass is a house that's less likely to get sold. In the meantime, the longer that house stands empty and decrepit, the more damage it does to neighboring property values.

Yet this kind of maintenance work costs money, specifically $557 million last year, according to a recent segment on ABC News. In the coming year, ABC reports, American taxpayers will spend more than $40 million just to keep the lawns mowed at these addresses.

And at the national level, those vacant homes don't do anybody any favors. Right now, there's an excess of empty houses on the market and a shortage of people looking to buy them. That's a recipe for depressed housing prices, which in turn means low homeowner equity, an over-crowded rental market and a national economy without very much momentum.

ABC's report focuses on houses under the care of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the mortgage enterprises taken over by the federal government in 2008. But the vacancy problem is much bigger than those 200,000 or so houses, with some estimates put the number of vacant properties as high as 10 million. And the taxpayer burden goes well beyond Fannie and Freddie's inventories.

In many cases, local and municipal governments have to take responsibility for maintaining or bulldozing vacant properties -- an expensive pastime that's costing cities millions at a time when budgets are already stretched to the breaking point.

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