Rhea Mahbubani

Richmond Leaders to Buy, Renovate ‘Zombie' Houses, Sell them to Needy Families

An East Bay city is tackling blight in an innovative way.

Richmond’s leaders are teaming up with a community non-profit to buy and renovate nearly 200 "zombie" houses, as they are called, and sell them to families in need.

The properties have been empty for years after owners who couldn’t afford them walked away and banks never fully foreclosed. But the abandoned residences are magnets for squatters and an eyesore for neighbors.

"They're huge problems," said Joshua Genser with the Richmond Community Foundation. "They attract squatters, they attract drug dealers, [and] they attract rats and other vermin. [They] just look ugly and bring property values down."

In response, Richmond’s officials have teamed up with a nonprofit and Mechanics Bank to use social impact bonds to buy the properties, fix them up and then sell them to families in need.

Officials hope to have revamped and sold about 200 houses, priced between $250,000 and $350,000, in five years. The first are expected to be ready for sale by next spring.  

Carmelita Goff hopes to be among the first buyers. Once homeless, Goff and her family have gotten back on their feet with help from Spark Point, a center that helps families learn to be financially secure.

Spark Point’s clients will get first dibs on the homes.

"I'm ecstatic," Goff said. "I'm just waiting, just hurry up and rehab a house for us. That way it will allow people like myself – working people with families – to afford to buy.

City leaders hope their approach will provide families, like the Goffs, with better opportunities to buy homes while those that live in the now impacted neighborhoods will benefit from a safer, cleaner environment.

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