12 Investigates: Bank forecloses on 7 Church Hill homes

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Neighbors don't normally jump for joy over a foreclosure, but that's exactly what's happening in one Church Hill neighborhood.

When Justin French's multi-million dollar empire came crashing down, the Richmond businessman ended up in federal prison and his properties along North 31st Street in Church Hill fell into disrepair.

The grass is overgrown and infested with bugs. The properties are used like a trash can. They are peeling, boarded up and broken. There are 7 homes in all.

"They've been that way for a long long time," said Michael Williams, who has lived in the neighborhood for two years. "It's pretty ridiculous. I mean they could have had them in use by now. Grass stays tall. Not much goes on over there."

The view from his neighbor's front porch, isn't much different. "It should be turned into homes for somebody, people that don't really have much money or something," said Lisa Beach.

The homes here were already empty and falling apart when French bought them in 2007. He was in the business of rehabbing and reselling. Those plans never got off the ground, when the economy tanked and his real estate scam was exposed.

The houses on 31st Street sat empty for years as he went through the court process and as his creditors closed in. Even though French sits in jail, the city continues to pile violation notices on the front door for high grass- a downed tree and trash.

Just this month, Village Bank finally foreclosed on all 7 homes.

"It will be a game changer for this entire street and actually for this whole section of the neighborhood," said David Herring. He's had his eyes on these properties for a while now. He's with the Better Housing Coalitions Center for Neighborhood Revitalization.

Where you might see old, dilapidated buildings- he see promise and potential. "This is really good housing stock. Very typical for this part of the neighborhood," said Herring.

Neighbors are hopeful the foreclosure means these houses will go on the auction block and finally have new owners. "I would like to see someone buy them and fix them up," said Beach.

Herring says- if a good owner comes along- what languished for years in the shadow of a money scheme- could become a bright spot for North Richmond's resurgence.

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