South Bend Goal to Address 1,000 Vacant Properties in 1,000 Days

On February 28, SouthBendTribune.com published an article entitled 1,000 Properties in 1,000 Days.

‘1,000 properties in 1,000 days’
Rehabbing part of mayor’s report on vacant housing.

SOUTH BEND — The mayor’s office Wednesday released a report detailing the extent of vacant and abandoned housing in the city and recommending possible solutions to the problem, including targeted demolition of the most dilapidated structures.

Also recommended is the formation of a government-run land bank to acquire, manage and dispose of such properties in a manner that improves the city’s neighborhoods.

“It’s a terrifically rich body of data and set of recommendations, both showing the dimensions of the problem of vacant and abandoned housing as well as pointing the way toward a number of solutions,” Mayor Pete Buttigieg said of the report.

He added, “It’s not enough, of course, to have the facts on the ground. This is a touchstone, and now it’s up to all of us to take action.”

The mayor spoke from inside the empty dining room of a former vacant and abandoned home in the 900 block of Cottage Grove Avenue, northwest of downtown. He was joined by city and county officials and members of the Vacant and Abandoned Housing Task Force, which produced the exhaustive, 78-page report in coordination with the city.
Buttigieg described the home as an example of what can be done to address the issue of vacant and abandoned housing when the city, county and community work together. The Near Northwest Neighborhood Inc. acquired the home from the county. It then rehabbed it with assistance from the city, which helped the not-for-profit secure a Community Development Block Grant.

“The house we are in was vacant and abandoned for about six years, and look at it now,” Buttigieg said. “It’s a terrific property. It’s on the market, and I think it’s going to have a family moving in as soon as people see what this house has to offer.”

In conjunction with the report, the mayor announced an effort to address 1,000 vacant and abandoned homes in the city in 1,000 days. That just about coincides with the end of the mayor’s term in office, which expires at the end of 2015.

“In order to do something great,” the mayor said, quoting the American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein, “you need two things: a plan and not quite enough time. And that’s where we’re at right now by setting this ambitious goal as a community of addressing 1,000 properties in 1,000 days.”

The goal is to rehab or demolish the homes, he said. He said the decision would be based on information about the health of the city’s neighborhoods that is contained in the report and on information particular to the property itself, including its condition, the owner’s financial situation and the market conditions in the surrounding neighborhood.

Task force co-chair James Kelly, a clinical professor of law at the University of Notre Dame, said, “We need information about property owners, about the conditions of the property itself and, most importantly, about the market conditions in the neighborhoods around these properties, so that we can target our resources, our limited resources … to move forward on vacant and abandoned properties.”

In addition to addressing 1,000 vacant and abandoned homes in the next three years, the mayor announced that the city would move to demolish 50 unsafe homes right away. The homes are located in the most distressed areas of the city, including on the northwest side, centered west of Chapin Street and Lincoln Way West, and southeast of downtown, around Riley High School.
The city intends to solicit bids for the work next week, the mayor said.

“Just to be clear, we can’t demolish our way out of this problem,” he said. “We need to repair and rebuild all the houses we can, but also swiftly demolish those houses we can’t so they’re no longer creating crime and property value problems.”

At the mayor’s request, the Common Council agreed to appropriate an additional $500,000 out of the general fund this year to demolish some of the estimated 1,275 abandoned homes in the city. The cost to demolish one home is estimated at about $6,000 on average.

The report details how the city should go about assessing whether a vacant and abandoned structure should be demolished. To begin with, the home must meet the definition of an unsafe structure under the state’s Unsafe Building Law. Secondly, it must not be a candidate for rehab in the near future.

The report also recommends that an abandoned home not be considered for immediate demolition unless there is a plan in place to reuse the property once the home is gone.

Asked if the city has a plan for the 50 homes it intends to tear down in the coming months, Buttigieg said, “You can’t guarantee that every single one of those we’ve got the final answer. But one of the things that the report recommends, and that we’re going to do, is that when deciding where to target limited dollars, part of how we’re going to make that decision is a house is going to move up the list for action … if there is a plan in place for what to do with that lot afterwards.”

He added, “Candidly, a lot of them will not see a new house built on that site in the near future, but there may be opportunities to partner with neighbors, and we need to find ways as a local government to make it easier if a neighbor wants to turn one of those into a side lot.”

Action plan

In terms of addressing vacant and abandoned houses, the report recommends the city begin by enforcing building codes.

To that end, the mayor on Wednesday announced the appointment of Shubhada Kambli to replace Catherine Toppel as the director of Code Enforcement. A graduate of Tufts University who has worked on energy issues at all levels of government, Kambli will oversee the implementation of the report, the mayor said.

“We need a single point of contact, single accountability for this issue … and our new director of code enforcement brings a wealth of skill and insight and strategic vision, both for the department itself and for the way the department is going to fit into this initiative, that I think is going to be a terrific step forward for our city,” he said of the decision to bring Kambli, who also holds a master’s degree in urbanism, landscape and ecology from Harvard University, on board.

Of Toppel, the mayor said, “I have tremendous respect and admiration for what Catherine Toppel has contributed to the city, and she’ll be continuing to serve as a senior adviser lending her expertise to the department.” He said she would do so on a contract basis and not as a full-time city employee.

The report recommends Code Enforcement narrow its focus when it comes to ordering property owners to make repairs. It recommends the department focus on property owners who can afford to make the repairs and on homes in neighborhoods in which the market is strong enough to support rehab loans.

Outside of Code Enforcement, the report recommends the city use receivership, a legal process by which title to a property is given to a court-appointed officer, or receiver, on a temporary basis, and land banking to address the problem.

A land bank is a governmental authority that acquires vacant and abandoned property and maintains it until it can be sold. Among other things, land banks make it possible for local governments to acquire contiguous lots in order to make large parcels of land available for development.

“Because not every abandoned house will either be fixed up right away or be demolished right away, we need a plan to bring these properties back to productive use … and the critical step in making vacant property and abandoned property available for productive use is land banking,” Kelly, the task force co-chair, said. “Land banking is a mode by which the government can take temporary ownership of the houses and make them available to nonprofit and for-profit developers,” he said, “so that they can be rehabbed or put back to greener use and make a brighter future for those neighborhoods.

Legislation passed in 2006 allows local development departments in Indiana to form land banks. However, the law does not provide for a funding source for the banks. In addition, under current law, it is difficult for land banks to acquire vacant and abandoned property via the county the tax sale process.

A special land bank committee introduced draft legislation this year that would allow land banks to operate outside government control, provide funding sources for the banks and reform the tax sale process, but the legislation was assigned to a summer study committee.

In order for the city to fully implement the recommendations in the report, its important the state act on some sort of land bank reform soon, Kelly said.

“For the long term, the land banking is extremely important,” he said. “And towards that end, we need legislation that allows for a tax sale process to have these tax-delinquent properties moved into a government-controlled land bank that will make them available for productive use.

He added, “If we think we can demolish our way out of this problem, we’re very much mistaken. We need to be able to put these properties back to productive use, and land banking is the tool we use to make that move over the long term.”

The mayor said he is working with county officials on ways to reform the tax sale process under the current law. “They’ve committed to work with the city on opportunities like finding a common definition for vacant and abandoned properties that allows us to fast-track those homes that are tied up in the tax sale process into the city’s hands, so we can do something about them,” he said.

Andy Kostielney, president of the county Board of Commissioners, agreed with mayor that it should be easier to acquire abandoned property. “I think we need to streamline the process by which property becomes available,” he said. However, “we need to be very mindful of not taking property out of people’s hands,” he said.

Asked about that concern, Kelly said, “The only kinds of moves of private property to government hands are tax-delinquent properties. These are properties for which the owner has decided that they will not pay the taxes that are due and owed to the county. So there is no discussion of eminent domain as a way of bringing properties into the land bank.”

Local residents also can help address the problem, the mayor said.

“The report also details a number of ways that citizens can take things into their own hands and be supportive,” he said, “everything from specific, direct things like mowing a neighbor’s lawn or taking action under the (state’s) Good Samaritan Law to protect and secure a neighboring property, all the way to gathering with other neighbors and actually acquiring a property.”

The mayor noted that a vacant and abandoned housing page has been added to the city’s website, www.southbendin.gov. The page provides information about the vacant and abandoned housing report, including a link to a copy of the document, and tools for residents to report code violations.

Response

Later in the day Wednesday, task force members, including the mayor, presented the report to the public at Washington High School. The presentation consisted of a short PowerPoint presentation. It was followed by an extended question-and-answer period.

The response was mixed.

Second District Common Council member Henry Davis Jr., whose district includes a large number of vacant and abandoned homes, wondered about the wisdom of tearing down so many houses in the city. Davis introduced a resolution this week asking the administration to stop demolishing homes until a plan can be put into place to redevelop the resulting vacant property. It was tabled indefinitely, 8-1.

“We can’t rip down the houses, whether good, bad or indifferent (without a) plan in place,” Davis said. Buttigieg responded that residents want vacant and abandoned homes to be demolished.

“Just about every resident that has come to a Mayor’s Night Out event, particularly from the 2nd District, to talk about vacant and abandoned homes has asked me to expedite the demolition process,” he said. He added that it would be unfair to the people living next to such homes to stop tearing them down. They are magnets for crime and bring down surrounding property values.

“We would all love to see the population return to a point where we don’t have too many houses, but that’s currently not the case,” he said. The city’s population has decreased by about 30,000 residents between 1960 and 2010, according to the report. At the same time, it has almost doubled in size in terms of land area, from about 24 square miles to about 42 square miles.

Another person, Joseph Shabaz, accused the city of attempting to gentrify certain neighborhoods. He said land banks have been used to move lower-income people out of certain neighborhoods and “change the neighborhood completely.”

The mayor noted that only abandoned homes would be acquired by the land bank, so no one would be displaced. “So residents living nearby, I hope, we’ll see their prosperity grow,” he said.

After listening to the mayor’s response, Shabaz stood up and angrily left. He could be heard muttering “You should be ashamed of yourself” on the way out.

Others wondered whether the city planned to make public money available to low-income residents to buy and maintain homes. Banks will not loan less than about $35,000 to $45,000 to people, Steve Weldy with Weichert Realtor said, making it difficult to purchase an abandoned home for anything other than cash.

“We are working on an initiative aimed at financial inclusion,” the mayor said, “at prompting banks to come up with financial products that are available to low-income residents.”

Though not everyone was pleased with the report or its recommendations, “it paints a really good picture of the current situation,” task force and 1st District Common Council member Tim Scott said.

Link to report

To view the online article, please click here.

About Safeguard
Safeguard Properties is the largest privately held field services company in the country. Located in Cleveland, Ohio and founded in 1990 by Robert Klein, Safeguard has grown from a regional preservation company with a few employees  and a handful of contractors performing services in the Midwest, to a national company with more than 1,600 employees. Safeguard is supported by a nationwide network of subcontractors able to perform any requested superintendence, preservation, and maintenance functions, as well as numerous ancillary services in the U.S., the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

On February 28, SouthBendTribune.com published an article entitled 1,000 Properties in 1,000 Days.

 

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CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

Alan Jaffa

Alan Jaffa is the chief executive officer for Safeguard, steering the company as the mortgage field services industry leader. He also serves on the board of advisors for SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Alan joined Safeguard in 1995, learning the business from the ground up. He was promoted to chief operating officer in 2002, and was named CEO in May 2010. His hands-on experience has given him unique insights as a leader to innovate, improve and strengthen Safeguard’s processes to assure that the company adheres to the highest standards of quality and customer service.

Under Alan’s leadership, Safeguard has grown significantly with strategies that have included new and expanded services, technology investments that deliver higher quality and greater efficiency to clients, and strategic acquisitions. He takes a team approach to process improvement, involving staff at all levels of the organization to address issues, brainstorm solutions, and identify new and better ways to serve clients.

In 2008, Alan was recognized by Crain’s Cleveland Business in its annual “40-Under-40” profile of young leaders. He also was named a NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® finalist in 2013.

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Chief Operating Officer

Michael Greenbaum

Michael Greenbaum is the chief operating officer for Safeguard. Mike has been instrumental in aligning operations to become more efficient, effective, and compliant with our ever-changing industry requirements. Mike has a proven track record of excellence, partnership and collaboration at Safeguard. Under Mike’s leadership, all operational departments of Safeguard have reviewed, updated and enhanced their business processes to maximize efficiency and improve quality control.

Mike joined Safeguard in July 2010 as vice president of REO and has continued to take on additional duties and responsibilities within the organization, including the role of vice president of operations in 2013 and then COO in 2015.

Mike built his business career in supply-chain management, operations, finance and marketing. He has held senior management and executive positions with Erico, a manufacturing company in Solon, Ohio; Accel, Inc., a packaging company in Lewis Center, Ohio; and McMaster-Carr, an industrial supply company in Aurora, Ohio.

Before entering the business world, Mike served in the U.S. Army, Ordinance Branch, and specialized in supply chain management. He is a distinguished graduate of West Point (U.S. Military Academy), where he majored in quantitative economics.

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CHEIF INFORMATION OFFICER

George Mehok

George Mehok is the chief information officer for Safeguard. He is responsible for all strategic technology decisions, new systems deployments and data center operations supporting a national network of more than 10,000 mobile workers.

George has more than 20 years of leadership experience dedicated to high-growth companies in the mobile telecommunications and financial services industries, spanning startups to global industry leaders.

George played a senior role in the formation of Verizon Wireless, leading the IT product development and strategic planning team. He led the integration planning for the Verizon merger including: GTE, Vodafone-AirTouch, Bell Atlantic Mobile and PrimeCo.

As chief information officer at Revol Wireless, a VC-backed CDMA wireless communications network operator, George’s team implemented an integrated technology infrastructure and award-winning business intelligence platform.

George holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Eastern Michigan University and an M.B.A. from The Ohio State University. He is a board member of Akron University’s School of Business Center for Information Technology, in addition to an advisory board member for OHTec.

In 2013, George won the Crain’s Cleveland Business CIO of the Year award for his team’s work in completing a major acquisition and technology transformation at Safeguard. In 2015, George’s team was recognized by InformationWeek’s annual Elite 100 ranking of the most innovative U.S.-based users of business technology. The mobile inspection technology developed at Safeguard was selected as InformationWeek’s “One of the top 20 ideas to steal in 2015”.

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General Counsel and Executive Vice President

Linda Erkkila, Esq.

Linda Erkkila is the general counsel and executive vice president for Safeguard, with oversight responsibilities for the legal, human resources, training, compliance and audit departments. Linda’s broad scope of oversight covers regulatory issues that impact Safeguard’s operations, pro-active risk mitigation, enterprise strategic planning, human capital and training initiatives, compliance and audit services, litigation and claims management, and counsel related to mergers, acquisition and joint ventures.

Linda’s oversight of the legal department along with multiple compliance and human capital focused departments assures that Safeguard’s strategic initiatives align with its resources, leverage opportunities across the company, and contemplate compliance mandates. Her practice spans almost 20 years, and Linda’s experience, both as outside and in-house counsel, covers a wide range of corporate matters, including regulatory disclosure, corporate governance compliance, risk assessment, executive compensation, litigation management, and merger and acquisition activity. Her experience at a former Fortune 500 financial institution during the subprime crisis helped develop Linda’s pro-active approach to change management during periods of heightened regulatory scrutiny.

Linda previously served as vice president and attorney for National City Corporation, as securities and corporate governance counsel for Agilysys Inc., and as an associate at Thompson Hine LLP. She earned her JD at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Linda holds a degree in economics from Miami University and an MBA. In 2017, Linda was named as both a “Woman of Influence” by HousingWire and as a “Leading Lady” by MReport.

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Chief Financial Officer

Joe Iafigliola

Joe Iafigliola is the Chief Financial Officer for Safeguard. Joe is responsible for oversight of the Control, Quality Assurance, Accounting and Information Security departments, and is a Managing Director of SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Joe has been in a wide variety of roles in finance, supply chain management, information systems development, and sales and marketing. His career includes senior positions with McMaster-Carr Supply Company, Newell/Rubbermaid, and Procter and Gamble.

Joe has an MBA from The Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and holds a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University’s Honors Accounting program.

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AVP, High Risk and Investor Compliance

Steve Meyer

Steve Meyer is the assistant vice president of high risk and investor compliance for Safeguard. In this role, Steve is responsible for managing our clients’ conveyance processes, Safeguard’s investor compliance team and developing our working relationships with cities and municipalities around the country. He also works directly with our clients in our many outreach efforts and he represents Safeguard at a number of industry conferences each year.

Steve joined Safeguard in 1998 as manager over the hazard claims team. He was instrumental in the development and creation of policies, procedures and operating protocol. Under Steve’s leadership, the department became one of the largest within Safeguard. In 2002, he assumed responsibility for the newly-formed high risk department, once again building its success. Steve was promoted to director over these two areas in 2007, and he was promoted to assistant vice president in 2012.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve spent 10 years within the insurance industry, holding a number of positions including multi-line property adjuster, branch claims supervisor, and multi-line and subrogation/litigation supervisor. Steve is a graduate of Grove City College.

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AVP, Operations

Jennifer Jozity

Jennifer Jozity is the assistant vice president of operations, overseeing inspections, REO and property preservation for Safeguard. Jen ensures quality work is performed in the field and internally, to meet and exceed our clients’ expectations. Jen has demonstrated the ability to deliver consistent results in order audit and order management.  She will build upon these strengths in order to deliver this level of excellence in both REO and property preservation operations.

Jen joined Safeguard in 1997 and was promoted to director of inspections operations in 2009 and assistant vice president of inspections operations in 2012.

She graduated from Cleveland State University with a degree in business.

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AVP, Finance

Jennifer Anspach

Jennifer Anspach is the assistant vice president of finance for Safeguard. She is responsible for the company’s national workforce of approximately 1,000 employees. She manages recruitment strategies, employee relations, training, personnel policies, retention, payroll and benefits programs. Additionally, Jennifer has oversight of the accounts receivable and loss functions formerly within the accounting department.

Jennifer joined the company in April 2009 as a manager of accounting and finance and a year later was promoted to director. She was named AVP of human capital in 2014. Prior to joining Safeguard, she held several management positions at OfficeMax and InkStop in both operations and finance.

Jennifer is a graduate of Youngstown State University. She was named a Crain’s Cleveland Business Archer Award finalist for HR Executive of the Year in 2017.

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AVP, Application Architecture

Rick Moran

Rick Moran is the assistant vice president of application architecture for Safeguard. Rick is responsible for evolving the Safeguard IT systems. He leads the design of Safeguard’s enterprise application architecture. This includes Safeguard’s real-time integration with other systems, vendors and clients; the future upgrade roadmap for systems; and standards designed to meet availability, security, performance and goals.

Rick has been with Safeguard since 2011. During that time, he has led the system upgrades necessary to support Safeguard’s growth. In addition, Rick’s team has designed and implemented several innovative systems.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Rick was director of enterprise architecture at Revol Wireless, a privately held CDMA Wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana, and operated his own consulting firm providing services to the manufacturing, telecommunications, and energy sectors.

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AVP, Technology Infrastructure and Cloud Services

Steve Machovina

Steve Machovina is the assistant vice president of technology infrastructure and cloud services for Safeguard. He is responsible for the overall management and design of Safeguard’s hybrid cloud infrastructure. He manages all technology engineering staff who support data centers, telecommunications, network, servers, storage, service monitoring, and disaster recovery.

Steve joined Safeguard in November 2013 as director of information technology operations.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was vice president of information technology at Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana. He also held management positions with Northcoast PCS and Corecomm Communications, and spent nine years as a Coast Guard officer and pilot.

Steve holds a BBA in management information systems from Kent State University in Ohio and an MBA from Wayne State University in Michigan.

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AVP, Mobile and Analytics

Jason Heckman

Jason Heckman is the assistant vice president of mobile and analytics for Safeguard. He is responsible for both Safeguard’s mobile development and strategy as well as the company’s data warehousing and business intelligence. Jason oversees the design, development and release of all Safeguard’s internally developed mobile applications. He also oversees the development and delivery of operational and analytical data technologies throughout the organization.

Jason joined Safeguard as manager of mobile in 2012. During that time he led the development and integration of Safeguard’s mobile applications across the company’s vendor network to provide real-time data from the field. In 2014, he was promoted to director of mobile applications and named assistant vice president in 2017.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Jason was the director of application development and business intelligence for Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana.

Jason holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

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AVP, Business Development

Tim Rath

Tim Rath is the AVP of business development for Safeguard. He is responsible for developing innovative growth strategies for Safeguard and developing and overseeing potential partnerships, mergers and acquisitions.

Tim joined Safeguard in 2011 as project director and has filled numerous roles within Vendor Management, most recently serving as director of vendor management, a role he assumed in 2011.

Prior to Safeguard, Tim worked as director of supply chain at PartsSource Inc. in Aurora, Ohio, a provider of medical replacement parts, procurement solutions and healthcare supply chain management technology services. He also has held sales positions with Rexel, ComDoc, and Pier Associates, all based in Ohio.

Tim holds a degree in marketing and sales from The University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. He also earned his FAA Certified Commercial UAS (Drone) Pilot license in 2017.