Blight Laws And The Movement Away From Plywood

Legislation Update

June 28, 2017

The concept of blight is a frequent topic in the headlines and in the hallways of state and local governments. This term has a long history in common parlance, beginning with its early 20th-century use by social reformers to call attention to living conditions confronting new waves of immigrants arriving in rapidly industrialized cities.

Most recently, following the 2007-2008 financial collapse of the mortgage industry and the ensuing foreclosure crisis, state and local governments renewed their focus on blight from the standpoint of the impact on surrounding communities by properties in various stages of foreclosure and especially vacant properties.

Today, the term is defined as a state of depreciation of a property in which the property has lost either its value as a social good or economic commodity or its functional status as a livable space. Defined this way, blight is not an objective condition. With each community trying to define for itself what constitutes “blight,” a patchwork of state and local measures aimed at confronting and managing this condition has developed over the years and continues to evolve as new studies are published on the impact of foreclosures and property vacancies on various communities. Blight, at this point, seems to be defined as much by what it would take to remediate it as by what it looks like.

When it comes to taking action against blighted properties, the primary actors usually are local governments, nonprofit organizations and community-based groups that frequently work together to identify approaches for managing blight and set policies for managing such approaches. After years of trial and error, most communities have been coalescing around the following strategies for addressing blighted properties:

  • Code enforcement programs – the creation of government departments that inspect, investigate and prosecute local laws on physical condition and safety of properties. These initiatives frequently followed passage of stricter local codes specifying methods for maintaining and securing vacant properties;
  • Registration ordinances – a rapidly increasing number of local governments have been adopting regulation that requires property owners and managers to register vacant properties, monitor and maintain their condition, or obtain annual licenses and pass regular inspections;
  • Property information and data systems – the establishment of city-wide or regional databases of public- and private-sector tax, foreclosure, code enforcement, and utility shut-off information to track the status of real properties;
  • Land bank and demolition programs – many states now authorize cities and counties to create quasi-public authorities to acquire, dispose of, and redevelop primarily tax-delinquent, but also vacant, properties; and
  • Neighborhood redevelopment and urban greening initiatives – mainly community-based programs for rehabilitation of dilapidated homes, greening of vacant lots and reclamation of industrial sites.

Broken windows theory 2.0 – doing away with plywood

There is little data on what policies and programs work best to limit, eliminate or remediate blighted properties. However, one consistent finding across all of the studies into the impact of property foreclosures and abandonment is the confirmation of the “broken windows theory” – the existence of a direct relationship between an increase in vacant and abandoned properties in a neighborhood and an uptick in criminal activity, especially violent criminal activity, in the same neighborhood. Property vacancy has been repeatedly proven to be the strongest predictor of violent crime in an area, ahead of any other socioeconomic or demographic variable. And nothing signals property vacancy like broken windows and doors, or windows and doors covered up with plywood.

Plywood has been the cost-efficient material of choice for securing vacant properties. However, localities dealing with large numbers of boarded-up properties quickly came to conclude that securing vacant properties with plywood did nothing to mask property vacancies. Wide-ranging experimentation with alternatives to plywood ensued.

Local initiatives to banish plywood

By 2011, a number of cities in Connecticut passed ordinances requiring any plywood used to secure doors, windows or any other parts of a property to be painted with color that matches the color of the building. Several Minnesota localities in the same year went a step further and required any plywood used to secure property openings to be cut to fit the respective opening and painted to “match the building exterior or covered with reflective material such as plexiglass to simulate windows.” In Hennepin County, Minn., town leaders upped the ante by promoting the use of “urban camouflage” – vinyl sheets with images of windows printed on them placed over the previously boarded windows. Minnesota’s creative approach to securing vacant properties continued with the 2012-2013 Milwaukee “artistic board-up” initiative, in which neighborhood revitalization groups turned plywood window and door coverings into works of art.

But, the practical approach triumphed over artistic in the rest of the country. In 2012, Fayetteville, N.C., passed an ordinance setting a three-year horizon for doing away with plywood as material used to secure vacant properties. As of September 2015, any still-vacant or newly vacant properties in Fayetteville have to be secured with transparent materials. In 2014, Chicago’s city council adopted regulations for securing vacant buildings that still allow plywood to be used to secure a building for an initial six-month period but largely mandate a shift to plexiglass boarding due to its perceived ability to reduce criminal activity around vacant properties. Phoenix made the news in April 2015 when it outright banned the use of plywood and required structures unoccupied for more than 90 days to be secured with polycarbonate sheets.

Anti-plywood ordinances – an abuse of police power?

While this gradual cross-country implementation of plywood alternatives has gone largely unimpeded, a recent case out of Pennsylvania demonstrates that it is possible to go too far in pursuing the un-abandoned property look. Philadelphia’s Property Maintenance Code, in effect since 2003, mandates that a vacant property “that is a blighting influence” must have all openings secured with actual windows, doors, frames and glazing, and boards or masonry can only be used to secure such property if placed behind actual windows and doors. In October 2016, a Pennsylvania court, in apparent rejection of the broken windows theory, found this provision to be an impermissible abuse of the city’s police power because, according to the court, that section of the code was concerned “only with aesthetic appearance of vacant buildings, rather than the safety risks posed by blight.” However, this decision appears to be an exception to the emerging broad consensus that plywood alternatives are more secure and more likely to improve the market conditions in neighborhoods with a high percentage of REO properties.

Fannie Mae and the state of Ohio

Nationwide, the balance continues to tip in favor of polycarbonate plywood alternatives for securing vacant properties. As of Nov. 6, 2016, Fannie Mae, which has been allowing the use of polycarbonate to secure its REO properties for several years, will essentially mandate its use into the foreseeable future by requiring the use of plywood alternatives and making polycarbonate an “allowable” for both pre-foreclosure and real estate owned (REO) properties in its residential servicing guide.

Further, on Dec. 8, 2016, Ohio passed H.B.4463 and became the first state to outright ban the use of plywood and mandate the use of polycarbonate to secure vacant properties that are foreclosed under the new expedited foreclosure process. Ohio REO properties foreclosed upon and declared vacant prior to the April 5, 2017, effective date may continue to be secured with plywood. However, although Ohio has certainly thrown the power of the state behind this major policy change, enforcement of this new law is still left to the discretion of individual municipalities.

The decisive steps by various localities, Fannie Mae and now Ohio to move away from plywood as the default boarding material are anticipated to lead to faster return of properties to the market in a more stable and marketable condition, with the collateral benefit of reducing crime and community blight. Some advocates, such as Robert Klein, founder and chairman of Safeguard Properties, go as far as predicting that “80 percent of the issues that the mortgage servicing industry has with securing vacant properties will be resolved when the industry moves toward polycarbonate clear boarding.” Only time will tell if plywood alternatives will prove to be the kind of panacea the REO market is hoping for.

Source: Servicing Management



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.


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.



Sean Reddington

Sean Reddington is the new Chief Information Officer for Safeguard Properties LLC. Sean has over 15+ years of experience in Information Services Management with a strong focus on Product and Application Management. Sean is responsible for Safeguard’s technological direction, including planning, implementation and maintaining all operational systems

Sean has a proven record of accomplishment for increasing operational efficiencies, improving customer service levels, and implementing and maintaining IT initiatives to support successful business processes.  He has provided the vision and dedicated leadership for key technologies for Fortune 100 companies, and nationally recognized consulting firms including enterprise system architecture, security, desktop and database management systems. Sean possesses strong functional and system knowledge of information security, systems and software, contracts management, budgeting, human resources and legal and related regulatory compliance.

Sean joined Safeguard Properties LLC from RenPSG Inc. which is a nationally leading Philintropic Software Platform in the Fintech space. He oversaw the organization’s technological direction including planning, implementing and maintaining the best practices that align with all corporate functions. He also provided day-to-day technology operations, enterprise security, information risk and vulnerability management, audit and compliance, security awareness and training.

Prior to RenPSG, Sean worked for DMI Consulting as a Client Success Director where he guided the delivery in a multibillion-dollar Fortune 500 enterprise client account. He was responsible for all project deliveries in terms of quality, budget and timeliness and led the team to coordinate development and definition of project scope and limitations. Sean also worked for KPMG Consulting in their Microsoft Practice and Technicolor’s Ebusiness Division where he had responsibility for application development, maintenance, and support.

Sean is a graduate of Rutgers University with a Bachelor of Arts and received his Masters in International Business from Central Michigan University. He was also a commissioned officer in the United States Air Force prior to his career in the business world.


General Counsel and Executive Vice President

Linda Erkkila, Esq.

Linda Erkkila is the general counsel and executive vice president for Safeguard and oversees the legal, human resources, training, and compliance departments. Linda’s responsibilities cover regulatory issues that impact Safeguard’s operations, risk mitigation, enterprise strategic planning, human resources and training initiatives, compliance, litigation and claims management, and mergers, acquisition and joint ventures.

Linda assures that Safeguard’s strategic initiatives align with its resources, leverage opportunities across the company, and contemplate compliance mandates. Her practice spans over 20 years, and Linda’s experience covers 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.


Chief Financial Officer

Joe Iafigliola

Joe Iafigliola is the Chief Financial Officer for Safeguard. Joe is responsible for the Control, Quality Assurance, Business Development, Accounting & 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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Assistant Vice president of Application Development

Steve Goberish

Steve Goberish, is the assistant vice president of application development for Safeguard. He is responsible for the maintenance and evolution of Safeguard’s vendor systems ensuring high-availability, security and scalability while advancing the vendor products’ capabilities and enhancing the vendor experience.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was a senior technical architect and development manager at First American Title Insurance, a publicly held title insurance provider based in southern California, in addition to managing and developing applications in multiple sectors from insurance to VOIP.

Steve has a bachelor’s degree from Kent State University in Ohio.