January 28, 2008 12:00 PM

Barbara Anderson, 60

Cleveland, Ohio

As victims of a foreclosure crisis abandoned their homes all around Barbara Anderson’s backyard, she saw the warning signs of civic decay: furniture rotting on the lawns outside empty houses; weeds sprouting over the walkways and gardens. Before long looters set in, stripping copper plumbing and aluminum siding. Says Anderson: “They started to strip the guts and heart out of the neighborhood.”

About 7,000 homes went into foreclosure in Cleveland last year mostly due to rising subprime mortgage rates and predatory lending tactics. Anderson understands the problem, having saved her own place from foreclosure in 2003 through tough negotiations with lenders. Now, as many of her neighbors try to do the same, she helps preserve her community with an organization called “Bring Back the 70s Street Club.” (70s refers to their home street numbers.) The goal: to make the streets safe again in the eight-block area dotted with abandoned homes. The methods: street cleanups, beautification projects and reporting criminal activity. With an annual budget of less than $5,000 (mostly from grants), Anderson and her 20 volunteers do everything from maintaining security cameras to planting flowers. “Before, the street would be full of dope boys,” says Vanessa Jones, a club member. “What she has done is amazing.”

And Anderson, a widow with four children and nine grandkids who works in consumer protection for the city, isn’t done yet: This year she will double her work area. Now when she sees a nice house next to a foreclosure, Anderson just smiles. “I say, ‘Hang in there, baby. We’re coming.'”

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