Chicago Targets ?Zombie Housing? for Renewal, Block by Block

Industry Update
July 9, 2018

Source: U.S. News & World Report

The city, nonprofit community groups, financial institutions and others are partnering to revitalize housing left behind in the foreclosure crisis.

Jeannie Oquendo was the first to move to North Central Park Avenue in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago in winter 2016.

Amid frigid temperatures, the block had seven abandoned houses since the foreclosure crisis. It was the type of neighborhood that could attract crime, not necessarily first-time homebuyers.

But Oquendo, a single mother of three, didn’t see any trouble on several visits to the street where she found a vacant two-unit building with potential. She got an affordable mortgage and bought the building. It gave her a chance to live in her old neighborhood and to be close to her aging parents.

“It’s been two years now and you can see the neighborhood is changing so fast,” Oquendo says. Those six other empty buildings have since been bought and rehabbed and families are living there now.

West Humboldt Park is among several Chicago neighborhoods that needed an intervention after the foreclosure crisis peaked around 2010. Vacant lots and so-called zombie buildings were left empty and in disrepair, community leaders said.

In 2011, Chicago officials created the Micro Market Recovery Program (MMRP) to jump start individual blocks that had a high rate of vacant buildings due to foreclosures. MMRP sought to transform those abandoned, dilapidated buildings into affordable homes for renters or first-time homebuyers. It would help to re-settle diverse communities and attract businesses.

Chicago had already spent about $169.2 million from the Housing and Urban Development’s Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) for areas hit hardest by foreclosures. MMRP would take the next step and include several community groups, such as Local Initiatives Support Corporation Chicago – known as LISC Chicago – to attract investors and families, according to the Chicago Department of Planning and Development.

Besides West Humboldt Park, MMRP has reoccupied nearly 1,000 buildings, including about 2,900 units, in Englewood, Auburn Gresham, West Pullman, Woodlawn and other neighborhoods. Also, more than 400 families received help with loans or obtained financial assistance to keep their existing homes.

“As long as the demand and the need are there, we will continue,” says David Reifman, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Planning and Development. “Right now, our recovery is steady but not complete.”

From 2011 through December 2018, about $12.8 million will be invested in MMRP, mostly from the city’s budget and grants from various nonprofits. The amount also includes about $3 million from the Illinois attorney general’s office settlement with major banks accused of questionable lending practices related to the foreclosure crisis.

“We wanted to focus our limited resources on key areas to bring back whole blocks at a time,” Reifman says.

Since then, foreclosure filings decreased by double digits in the MMRP zones from 2011 through 2016. The targeted areas in the north region had a 67.6 percent reduction. The middle region had a 66.1 percent decrease, while the south region had a 25.8 percent decrease. In comparison, foreclosure filings citywide decreased by 69.4 percent during the same period. Housing prices also increased in the MMRP communities, some as much as 33.1 percent, according to the Institute for Housing Studies at DePaul University.

The improvements are due to MMRP, community involvement, families returning to the area and an improving economy, says Geoff Smith, the institute’s executive director.

“Overall, (the city’s) strategy is one that’s important,” Smith says. “It targets small areas and helps the neighborhoods recover. When there are limited resources, you need to concentrate it and then target the areas to have some level of success.”

Also, providing an affordable mortgage, financial assistance, grants, and some forgivable loans are part of the equation, community experts say.

Oquendo obtained an affordable mortgage for about $86,000, which included about $39,000 for the home and the rest for the rehab project. Her monthly mortgage payment is $988, or about $75 more than what she paid in monthly rent for an apartment a few minutes away on North Avenue and Pulaski Road in Chicago.

But Oquendo faced a lengthy process. She closed on the property in February 2015 and anticipated a six-month rehab to replace the furnace, duct system, plumbing and roof. However, her contractor died and she needed to find another one. She finally moved in a year later.

Afterward, she bought the vacant lot next door for about $3,000 and turned it into a garden. She now raises tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers and other vegetables. She also plans to install a basketball court for her sons.

“I’ve been very happy with my decision and would do it all over again,” Oquendo says.

Anthony and Michelle Johnson, who have two children, purchased a two-unit building on North Spaulding Avenue in West Humboldt Park in 2015. They wanted to stay in the community where they teach masonry work to young people.

The Johnsons’ $160,000 mortgage also included money for all new electricity, plumbing and sewer work. Their monthly mortgage payment of about $1,400 is offset by $850 earned from renting out the other unit. That leaves about $550 out of pocket each month, compared to when they used to pay $850 rent at an apartment in the West Garfield Park neighborhood.

“This has changed the trajectory of our financial lives,” Michelle Johnson says. “We now own a piece of Chicago real estate and it’s now a part of our retirement plan.”

Also, MMRP aims to transform tough, poor neighborhoods, such as Englewood, where high-end grocer Whole Foods opened about two years ago. And more commercial development is planned, says Jack Swenson, program officer for LISC Chicago, which partners with the city on housing and other projects.

LISC Chicago develops a relationship with residents on a targeted block, finds out their needs and concerns, and works on filling vacant lots and acquiring vacant buildings. It’s a process that ultimately leads to a stronger foundation, Swenson says.

“Crime is a reality in every neighborhood and we think we sometimes forget how important a community is,” Swenson says. “In many neighborhoods across the city, it’s the people’s commitment to their community that outweigh the obstacles and they still choose to reinvest.”

Besides Chicago, NSP has distributed roughly $6.8 billion nationwide over the last 10 years to cities hit hardest by foreclosures, says Brian Sullivan, HUD spokesman in Washington, D.C.

“It’s hard to say if the foreclosure crisis is over,” Sullivan says. “They say all housing is local and the foreclosure crisis ended sooner in some areas rather than others. But who says it’s really over?”

Dallas received about $8 million in NSP funds to help the southern area most affected during the foreclosure crisis. Then Dallas officials in 2015 created the Neighborhood Plus Plan, a citywide revitalization program to help troubled neighborhoods. Dallas also has invested about $75.3 million in housing projects since 2009, says Dallas spokesman Corbin Rubinson.

The nation’s capital received about $17.4 million in NSP funds for its struggling neighborhoods. Then in December 2017, Washington’s Property Acquisition and Disposition Division created the Vacant to Vibrant DC program to quickly dispose of or sell vacant properties. Washington budgeted about $3 million this year for both programs, says Polly Donaldson, director of the city’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

Los Angeles received about $143 million in NSP funds to rebuild neighborhoods. In 2010, the city also adopted a Foreclosure Registry ordinance to further protect neighborhoods from inadequately maintained and abandoned foreclosed properties or face penalties, says Douglas Swoger, director of the asset management division of the Los Angeles Housing + Community Investment Department.

What cities spend on such programs also is difficult to compare, because of the wide range of services, the geography involved, the number of vacancies and other factors, says Alan Mallach, senior fellow and researcher for the Center for Community Progress in Washington, D.C.

Thousands of cities have neighborhood revitalization programs, which may range from a modest effort to give elderly homeowners grants to fix their homes to a multifaceted strategy. Some notable programs are in Minneapolis and Baltimore, Mallach says.

Some neighborhood revitalization work also is done by nonprofit organizations and not by city governments. Some include Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation and Cleveland Neighborhood Progress in Ohio, Mallach says.

Chicago’s MMRP has made tremendous progress and offers a cross-sector effort between the city, nonprofit community groups, financial institutions and others, says Maurice Jones, president and CEO of LISC, based in New York with 32 offices nationwide. LISC is a MMRP partner with Chicago.

“It’s a recipe that produces results and is sustainable,” Jones says.

Ojo and Michelle Patterson, parents of three children, just started the MMRP process to possibly buy a 3-unit building in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. They are renting an apartment in the nearby Auburn Gresham neighborhood for about $680 a month. They’re hoping their income as a barber and hairstylist could qualify them to pay a $1,600 monthly mortgage while renting out the other units. They also want to live in Englewood where they grew up and where they do volunteer work.

“Moving back into this community would allow me to grow in my own community, be included with other small businesses, and have the opportunity to live, breath and eat in my own community, while we invest and own,” Michelle Patterson says.



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.