RICHMOND -- For about 20 minutes, the vacant gray house at the corner of Virginia Avenue and South Sixth Street came to life, teeming with lights, cameras and people.
The bank-owned house is empty and in severe disrepair, like hundreds of others throughout Richmond.
"This is actually a success story of sorts," said Richmond Code Enforcement Director Tim Higares. "The owner, Bank of America, has responded expeditiously and has it secured and cleaned up."
The house served as the starting point Friday for the Not on My Block tour; a bus ride around town aimed at highlighting the costly, chronic drag that abandoned, blighted properties have on city services and community well-being.
More than 40 people, including residents, activists and Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, joined the tour organized by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a statewide advocacy network that has pushed for more funds for troubled mortgage-holders and tighter rules against foreclosing on struggling homeowners.
Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday signed into law the Homeowner Bill of Rights, which could help 1 million people statewide stay in their homes. But in Richmond, the problem shows no signs of easing, Higares said.
"It's just staying the same; some houses get fixed up, and others fall vacant and blighted," Higares said. "We don't see any letup."
In the south Richmond neighborhood where the bus tour started, the wide streets
Police, code enforcement and other city departments complain that the glut of vacant properties is not only a drain on services but also pose a danger to the neighbors when the structures serve as havens for squatters who bring with them drugs, prostitution and other illicit activity.
"We must not stand for this situation in our community," said resident Deborah Price. "The community is here, and we will be heard."
Higares said the "fluidity" of the foreclosure crisis makes it impossible to give an exact number but that "several hundred" abandoned and blighted properties dot the city.
"It changes day to day," Higares said.
Higares said a city ordinance passed four years ago has enabled his agency to levy about $1 million in fines on banks for not properly securing and maintaining their properties in the city.
Among the local reforms alliance officials are seeking is an online registry that would force banks to report their foreclosed or vacant holdings.
Activists said it was important for the community to come together and highlight the problem.
Mayor McLaughlin, who has consistently criticized the role lending institutions played in the housing crisis, said Richmond's poorer neighborhoods have been hit especially hard.
Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726. Follow him at Twitter.com/roberthrogers.