Earlier this week, the New York Times published the brilliantly titled but somewhat cringe-y, “Animal McMansion: Students Trade Dorm for Suburban Luxury
,” an article describing how students at the University of California, Merced
are shacking up in the city’s surplus of amenity-heavy, bank-owned properties for about $200 to $300 in rent per month. Swimming pools, Jacuzzis, chandeliers, high-end appliances, granite countertops, five-plus bedrooms … you name it, these students have it (and the neighbors in these foreclosure-ravaged subdivisions — many of whom are struggling to keep up with their own mortgages — aren’t always thrilled about it). To think that my first off-campus apartment in Boston was probably about the size of a walk-in closet in one of these homes. Sigh.
Anyways, not to be outdone, the Los Angeles Times
also published a piece on how foreclosed McMansions in another part of the country severely shaken by the mortgage crisis — Las Vegas — are being put to interesting new use instead of being left to rot: they're being converted into energy-intensive
indoor marijuana growing operations. Yep, Merced, the metropolitan area with the third highest number of foreclosures gets those crazy college kids doing homework in whirlpool tubs, and Las Vegas, the metropolitan area with the
highest number of foreclosed homes, gets hydroponic gardeners growing skunk in their guest bedrooms. I'll let you decide which would make a worse neighbor.
The L.A. Times notes that Las Vegas’ pot problem is very much tied to the housing slump — “in neighborhoods where residents may be as transient as crowds in a subway station, growers are rarely questioned about dark windows and empty driveways” — with authorities in Nevada raiding more than 153 indoor grow sites and seizing more than 13,000 plants in 2010 compared to 18 sites and 1,000 plants in 2005.
William Sousa, a criminologist at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, remarks: "You can't have crime without opportunity. And all those empty homes present an opportunity for criminal activity." Sgt. Russ Cutolo of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department notes that many of the foreclosed home-turned-pot farms have been nearly identical, "suggesting some groups take a chain-restaurant approach to farming pot."
One of Las Vegas’ more recent (and smaller-scale) foreclosed home pot busts involved Frederica Ballard and her two adult sons who were renting a “two-story box the color of an oatmeal cookie" in the Vegas suburbs. Police arrived on a domestic violence call (those not-very-smart Ballard boys got into a brawl) only to find a "jungle" growing in the master bedroom. In total, 61 plants were found along with scales, packing materials, growing equipment, and a couple grand in cash. Not surprisingly, the Ballard clan has since moved from the neighborhood.
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