The age-old standard for boarding up windows in vacant homes, plywood, is gradually becoming a thing of the past. In November, Fannie Mae announced it is now requiring the use of polycarbonate clearboarding on all of its properties in the pre-foreclosure stage. A state bill in Ohio that would ban the use of plywood when securing vacant homes has passed in the Ohio House and Senate and is waiting on the governor’s signature to become law.
Fannie Mae began experimenting with clearboarding close to three years ago in a few states, and has now adopted it as the standard for vacant properties. Cities and municipalities are beginning to make changes as well. The Slavic Village community in Cleveland has initiated the Slavic Village Recovery Project, a strategic partnership with several organizations created in direct response to community and housing market needs in Slavic Village. They started using clearboarding on vacant homes about three years ago and are pleased with the results. In 2015, the city of Phoenix, Arizona, became one of the first municipalities to outlaw the use of plywood in securing unoccupied homes.
Why the shift in the property preservation industry?
“Anytime a property is boarded up by plywood, it is contributing to blight,” said Joel Ratner, President and CEO of Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, one of the partner organizations in the Slavic Village Recovery Project. “Plywood is the sign of negative things, so plywood is not helpful. We're supportive of efforts to find other solutions, including polycarbonate, and anything that helps the house look like it's inhabited.”
Stacia Pugh, Housing Development Director at Slavic Village, said, “Using polycarbonate material has addressed a couple of issues for us. One is the general sense of blight. Boarded properties just stick out as eyesores more often and that makes them targets, which leads to the second issue, which was, it's fairly easy to remove the plywood. Even with a variety of methods, we found that break-ins were commons with the homes that were boarded in that way.”
Pugh said in Slavic Village, they were presented with an opportunity to use polycarbonate clearboarding a few years ago and they tried it—and they have not looked back since. Now Slavic Village uses clearboarding for all vacant homes on which they hold the title.
“You can even do things like hang up blinds or shades, and if you're just passing by, it might look more occupied to you as opposed to vacant and abandoned,” Pugh said. “It allows for the options to keep the homes looking fairly presentable, like someone cares about them, which obviously we do. The break-ins are way less common. It really does secure the home in a way that is way more effective than plywood.”
Robert Klein, founder and chairman of Community Blight Solutions, which is based in Cleveland and markets its clearboarding product nationally through its SecureView Windows division, is heading the Slavic Village Recovery project in Cleveland. Earlier this month when the law banning plywood passed in the Ohio Senate, Klein stated, “Ohio’s ban on the use of plywood is the first legislation of its kind and a game-changing, bold statement that will modernize the fight against community blight. The new legislation will benefit the industry by reducing vandalism and allow the on-time conveyance of the properties. It will protect neighborhoods, reduce blight in the community, and maintain the value of homes in the neighborhoods. It is our hope that more states will follow Ohio’s example.”
Phoenix Vice Mayor Kate Gallego was instrumental in getting a law passed last year in that city last year. Now the city requires all windows and door openings visible from the street to be secured with polycarbonate if the property has been vacant for 90 days (the previous number was 180).
“Before we made the switch in managing the windows of our vacant homes, it was far more apparent when homes were sitting vacant,” Gallego said. “This made them magnets for crime and blight, and had a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhoods. Since making the switch, it is virtually impossible to tell when a house has been boarded up, and the stronger material makes these properties more resistant to crime.”
She continued, “With the use of polycarbonate, vacant homes are now more seamlessly present in the community, helping to mitigate the drawbacks of having vacant homes in a particular neighborhood. Nobody wants to live on a street full of empty houses, and this obviously isn’t a permanent solution to the complex underlying dynamics at play. That being said, this was a relatively straightforward change that has had a positive impact on our community here in Phoenix.”
Pugh said another upside to using clearboarding over plywood is that there is greater opportunity to reuse the polycarbonate materials because of their durability compared to plywood.
“You can reuse plywood to some extent, but it doesn't weather as well. It starts to rot when it gets wet or splits over time,” she said. “Polycarbonate is so solid, you can use it again and again. It certainly contributes to the overall recovery of the area. We have a lot of efforts going on and that's just part of it. But it is a critical component.”
Officials in the city of Tehachapi, California, found the clearboarding impossible to break through even when they tried their hardest.
“So far we have only used the product on one home which was our initial test,” said Aaron Price, Code Enforcement Officer with the Tehachapi Police Department. “To date, nobody has broken into this home which has had polycarbonate on it for over six months. I personally took a baseball bat to the polycarbonate to test it and was only able to slightly scuff the polycarbonate after striking it until my hands were aching.”