Breaking Down Blight

Industry Update
February 6, 2017

Editors’ Note: This print feature appeared in the February issue of DS News.

Almost a decade has passed since the housing bubble burst, throwing the mortgage services industry and neighborhoods across the country into a pitched battle with blight. Recovery has been excruciatingly slow. Outdated rules and a public that has little understanding of the true costs associated with neighborhood blight contribute to a status-quo approach that has hindered the industry for decades.

Our residents and communities have borne the burdens that stem from a barely effective approach to combatting blight. But in 2016 and the early days of this year, the industry saw gradual movement that offers improved expectations for the days ahead.

Indeed, a confluence of change, innovation, and enhanced understanding of the widespread costs of blight have propelled the industry forward in efforts to decrease the number of zombie properties plaguing neighborhoods and to begin employing new technology in the form of polycarbonate clearboarding to secure vacant and abandoned properties.

Such progress offers reason for optimism that, finally, we will be able to attack community blight with the appropriate tools. Years from now, the industry will recognize 2017 as a pivotal year in the fight against blight.

Pre-approving Polycarbonate and the Plywood Problem

One of the most significant changes that built positive momentum in the fight against blight occurred in early November 2016, when Fannie Mae made the game-changing decision to pre-approve the use of polycarbonate clearboarding on pre-foreclosure properties. The decision marked the first time a GSE had expanded its reimbursement policies to include a 21st-century technology that is far superior to plywood.

Polycarbonate clearboarding resembles glass, yet it is virtually unbreakable. It can have a tremendous impact on conveying properties more quickly and in a more stable and marketable condition, especially when compared with plywood, an outdated and unattractive material used on vacant and abandoned property for decades.

Plywood announces that a building is vacant and abandoned, encouraging vandals and adverse occupants to break in. These people can become a threat to first responders, who cannot see through plywood to ascertain whether a property is actually vacant. Initially cheaper than polycarbonate clearboarding, plywood is easily broken into, deteriorates from weather conditions, and often has to be replaced three times or more.

Fannie Mae’s decision will likely be a catalyst that prompts the other GSEs and the industry in general to follow suit in 2017 and approve innovations that allow for the use of polycarbonate clearboarding.

The implications of this change will be staggering even if only Fannie Mae participates; if others follow suit, the impacts will be exponentially more significant. Consider that 1.3 million homes in America remain vacant. The national foreclosure rate is 1 in every 1,526 housing units, according to RealtyTrac.

As industry leaders embrace new technology, it will be possible to replace plywood with polycarbonate clearboarding, changing practically overnight the appearance of some of the most distressed neighborhoods across the country. Fannie Mae’s pre-approval policy expansion takes effect this month.

Gaining Legislative Support

Legislators from states and cities across the country are among those closest to witnessing the damage that unsecured and unsightly zombie properties exact on neighborhoods. Properties with plywood on them essentially scream that the neighborhood is in distress.

Ohio is leading all states in its proactive approach to attacking community blight. First, it passed the most progressive fast-track foreclosure law in the country, which in effect can shorten the length of time a property sits vacant during a foreclosure process from two years or more to just six months. This greatly reduces the opportunity for adverse occupants and the chances of non-surchargeable damage.

However, even more noteworthy is the measure Ohio Gov. John Kasich recently signed into law that bans plywood on vacant and abandoned properties. This bold law is the first of its kind in the United States and will have far-reaching implications. Most immediately, the law—which takes effect in March—will lead to far wider use of polycarbonate clearboarding in Ohio, which has the eighth-highest foreclosure rate in the nation, according to RealtyTrac.

This significant advancement in state government’s approach to eliminating plywood and fighting blight also should prove to be a model for states across the country.

Similarly, though not as wide-reaching, cities such as Phoenix and Coachella, California, are embracing the use of clearboarding to improve the appearance and security of their struggling neighborhoods. Phoenix was well ahead of the curve and, in 2015, passed an ordinance requiring all window and door openings visible from the street to be secured with polycarbonate clearboarding if the structure had been vacant and abandoned for more than 90 days.

In November, New York City lawmakers began review on a bill that would prohibit the use of plywood to secure vacant and abandoned buildings. Lawmakers clearly understood the simple yet direct connection between plywood and blight: “This bill would prohibit the use of plywood in sealing openings in vacant buildings,” they wrote when filing the bill. “This prohibition is intended to prevent blight.”

This bill would set a foundational example at the local level for eliminating plywood in communities of all sizes. New York City’s example would accelerate advocacy efforts for a progressive approach to blight remediation at all levels of government.

The True Cost of Foreclosure

Recently, Aaron Klein (no relation to the author) released a groundbreaking study quantifying for the first time the substantial and numerous impacts foreclosures and vacant and abandoned properties have on homeowners and their communities.

Even based on conservative estimates, the typical foreclosed home imposes costs of more than $170,000, he wrote in his paper, “Understanding the True Costs of Abandoned Properties: How Maintenance Can Make a Difference.”

The former U.S. Treasury Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy examines three main areas in which foreclosures and vacant and abandoned properties adversely impact homeowners and their communities: property values, crime, and increased burden on city resources. Among the findings Aaron Klein cites:

The foreclosure of a home will cause a loss of value of at least $130,000 for the home and its neighborhood.

Over half the total cost of a foreclosure’s impact on neighboring properties comes from the fact that the property is abandoned.

Vacant properties lead to increases in violent crime with substantial costs: $14,000 per vacant property per year in increased crime, translating into $795 million nationwide for all vacant properties.

The impact of vacancy on crime increases as the property stays vacant for longer periods, likely plateauing at between 12 and 18 months.

Vacant buildings are major fire hazards; vacant residential buildings account for one of every 14 residential building fires in America.

Community Blight Solutions of Cleveland commissioned this study to help decision makers across the country better understand blight’s true burdens.

Klein concludes that how well a vacant home is secured can have a substantial impact on the total costs associated with that status.

In a second study and paper to be released this month, Klein will examine the problems associated with plywood. His data will add to the growing evidence that plywood must be eliminated from vacant and abandoned properties and polycarbonate clearboarding should be used in its place.

The Year of Clearboarding

For the first time in decades, the housing industry—and mortgage field services in particular—are now armed with the tools they need to seriously and effectively attack community blight. For too long, plywood has served as the standard material for boarding vacant and abandoned properties. It has become the ugly and stigmatizing symbol of a community in despair.

Our laws and policies are now leaning toward a more proactive solution. We are beginning to replace outdated, unsightly, and inefficient plywood with modern-day technology in the form of polycarbonate clearboarding, but we have far to go. Advocacy efforts must continue at the national, state, and local levels. Progressive and effective policies must be adopted.

It is clear that 2017 will be the year of polycarbonate clearboarding. Forward-thinking leaders in government and industry are embracing a more effective solution.

Source: DS News

Additional Resources:

DS News (Not All Materials are Created Equal)

HousingWire/Community Blight Solutions (Servicing Game Changer)

DS News (The Cost of Fighting Community Blight)



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.