"Foreclosed Dreams" by street artist Banksy. (Photo by Finger Food.)

Last week, big banks agreed to fork over $26 billion to make up for some of the bungling and malfeasance that led to the massive national mortgage meltdown and economic implosion. Their misdeeds included everything from sloppy paperwork to cases where banks actually foreclosed on homes that they did not own. Seriously.

Most of the money will go to people who are “underwater” with their home loans, meaning that they owe the banks more than the house is now worth. Never mind that hundreds of thousands of people have already been booted from their homes, or have thrown up their hands and walked away.

This leaves the obvious question: What do we do with all these empty houses? I did a little poking around, and found quite a few creative reuses for these places. Here are my five favorites:

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1. Turn them into wildlife sanctuaries!

Mother Nature is already trying to take back the exurbs. Why not give her a little encouragement? In southern California, bobcats have been spotted lounging around a foreclosed exurban mansion. A pack of coyotes squatted in a burned-out house in Glendale, Calif. And “raccoons as big as orangutans” are taking over hard-hit neighborhoods in Chicago.

If there’s a downside to this approach, it’s that wild animals can make unruly neighbors. Just ask Stubby the three-legged Chihuahua, who was stung to death by bees that took up residence in a foreclosed house across the street from his own.

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2. Use them for urban farming!

It turns out that vacant homes are great places to grow crops — especially the illegal kind. In California, police found $4.5 million worth of marijuana growing in a foreclosed house. Authorities removed 100 marijuana plants from another one in southwest Florida. And in Minnesota, cops in full HAZMAT gear spent a day hauling various growing implements out of an abandoned basement.

All this led a blogger with U.S. News to wonder, “Is there anyone left who isn’t growing pot in their foreclosed home?”

3. Call your buddies and have a party!

Teenagers from California to Florida have apparently been throwing ragers in abandoned homes. ABC reported on particularly wild one that took place in Fort Meyers, Fla., a few years back:

The party ended with 17 people lined up in the driveway staring into the blinding lights of a police cruiser’s headlamps. Seven of them, aged 18 to 20, were on their way to the station to be fingerprinted and charged with loitering, prowling, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor; the other 10, all under 18, faced an even worse fate — explaining everything to their parents.

4. Stage prostitution stings in them!

Lest you think creative reuse is just for bad guys and troubled youth, police in California used foreclosed homes to nab johns in a prostitution sting.

“I wouldn’t want that around my neighborhood,” local resident Enrique Cardenas told a TV reporter when he was informed of the activity nearby. “I mean, that’s not good for my kids.”

You just can’t win with these people.

5. Use them as houses!

Nutty idea, I know. But Max Rameua, an advocate for homeless people in Miami, started fixing up foreclosed houses a few years ago and moving families in, reports Ode magazine. Rameau founded an organization called Take Back the Land, to “match homeless families with people-less homes.”

After a tornado ripped through north Minneapolis last summer, one local resident proposed using foreclosed homes as shelters for families that had lost theirs to the storm.

And in New Jersey, state legislators are now pushing a bill that would allow the state to buy as many as 10,000 foreclosed homes for use as affordable housing. One wonders how many of the new residents have lost their homes to foreclosure. (Couldn’t we have skipped a step here?)

Bonus, buzz-kill, reality-check idea No. 6

Aw, you’re right. That’s all crazy talk. Just bulldoze the things.