When the house next door is abandoned: a photo essay.

Collected images.
March 5 2009 6:35 AM

Paired Houses, but One Is Abandoned

A photo essay.

Click here for a photo essay on abandoned houses.

In Camden, N.J., perhaps the poorest American city I regularly visit, I photograph what I call paired houses: two dwellings, side by side, one occupied, the other empty. Those living in the occupied home often have their lives made more difficult by what happens on the other side of a shared wall. If I see a neighbor or meet the resident of one of the occupied houses, I ask how they're coping. They tell me that people throw trash in the front and back yards of the vacant unit, causing foul smells and attracting rats. Physical problems in the empty shell cause accelerated decay in the occupied house. Water may be left running in the unoccupied unit, causing moisture to migrate next door. In cold weather, pipes burst. Joists rot and collapse, tearing bricks out of the shared wall. And if the empty dwelling is not properly sealed, prostitutes and drug addicts may break in and start fires.

If a resident of a middle-class neighborhood dies or moves to a nursing home, or if a dwelling burns, the empty house is usually guarded or secured by the owner's family. The police keep an eye out for it. Neighbors, well-aware of the impact of a deteriorating eyesore on property values, alert city officials whenever they see a house falling into disrepair. The situation is quickly brought under control.

Advertisement

It's different in a crumbling inner city like Camden. Even Walt Whitman's old house at 328 Mickle St.—the only home he ever owned—was by the 1980s adjacent to a vacant three-story dwelling and just two houses away from a ruin. House values in Camden are low and likely to remain so since the population of the city is declining, unemployment is high, and there is little new demand for houses. The number of vacant houses is likely to increase; many will eventually be acquired by the city, which is too poor either to board them up or to demolish them.

As if afraid to disappear anonymously, people who live adjacent to abandoned homes are actually more likely to decorate the fronts of their houses during holidays than those who live more securely.

Camilo José Vergara is a 2002 MacArthur fellow whose books include American Ruins and How the Other Half Worships. You can see more of his photos on his Web site and can contact him at camilojosev@gmail.com.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 30 2014 2:36 PM This Court Erred The Supreme Court has almost always sided with the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful, a new book argues.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Sept. 30 2014 1:23 PM What Can Linguistics Tell Us About Writing Better? An Interview with Steven Pinker.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 6:44 PM Ebola Was Already Here How the United States contains deadly hemorrhagic fevers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.