Chicago Tribune “The growing charge of the blight brigade”

Safeguard Properties was mentioned in an article in the Chicago Tribune in connection to recent changes to municipal codes in the Chicago area.

The growing charge of the blight brigade

Tired of vacant, foreclosed properties dotting their streets, more municipalities are cracking down with ordinances, fines

By Janice Neumann | Special to the Chicago Tribune

First there were the vacant homes, one with its utilities cut off, overgrown grass and weeds and garbage piling up outside. Then there was the former car wash that sat vacant for three years, windows boarded up.

Weary of making multiple calls to find owners of the neglected properties, Oak Forest Ald. Diane Wolf researched what other Illinois municipalities were doing to monitor the problem and found vacant building ordinances in Chicago, Evanston and Normal, Ill.

At the urging of Oak Forest Mayor JoAnn Kelly, who was equally upset about the patches of blight, the city council in July passed a vacant building ordinance, joining other communities wrestling with ways to combat a rise in vacancies brought on by foreclosures and a dismal economy.

“We should not have to let it turn into a blighted neighborhood,” said Wolf. “It brings down property values, and there are safety concerns.”

The Oak Forest ordinance, which was modeled after Evanston’s and Chicago’s, uses a Web-based registry,, to list vacant buildings, when they went into foreclosure and the owner’s contact information.

Each vacant building must be inspected by the city’s code enforcement officer for a $500 fee and register annually for another $200 fee. Owners must have insurance ranging from $500,000 to $2 million. Infractions cost owners $100 to $750 daily. Buildings may not be boarded up for more than three months. Each owner must submit a plan for fixing up the building, demolishing it or selling it.

The city also hired a full-time code-enforcement officer and shortened the time owners have to cut grass and weeds from 10 days to five. After five days, the city does the work and bills the owner.

“You may have one vacant home on a street that actually reflects on everyone’s house on a street,” said Mayor Kelly. “There are some streets with multiple foreclosures.”

Oak Forest, which has a population of about 28,000, had 72 foreclosures in the first half of 2008, including 30 REO (real-estate owned) buildings, according to the Woodstock Institute, a Chicago non-profit that promotes community reinvestment in lower-income and minority areas and tracks foreclosures. REOs, buildings that go to auction but do not sell and revert back to banks or mortgage companies, are the properties most likely to become vacant, according to the Woodstock Institute.

Fears about the ripple effect of vacant buildings, diminished property values and increased crime are echoed by experts.

Julie Tappendorf, an attorney who wrote the vacant building ordinances for Oak Forest and Gilberts, said vacant buildings create a host of problems for communities.

“The ripple effect from the housing crisis has been devastating, as municipalities find that vacant buildings mean less revenue because of lower property values and unpaid taxes and utility bills. Unfortunately, at the same time that municipalities see a decrease in their revenue, they must deal with an increase in costs from enforcing property maintenance codes, securing vacant buildings, and policing neighborhoods that have seen a spike in crime as a result,” said Tappendorf.

Municipalities sometimes spend up to $34,000 per foreclosed property on increased policing and fire suppression, inspections, demolition and legal fees, unpaid water and sewer and trash removal, according to the Homeownership Preservation Foundation, which helps those at risk of losing their homes.

Each foreclosure within one-eighth of a mile can reduce a home’s value by 0.9 percent, according to a 2005 study of Chicago homes by the Woodstock Institute.

Though not all vacancies are foreclosures and not all foreclosures neglected, “there’s definitely a strong relationship where areas that have high levels of foreclosures are also going to have high levels of vacant properties,” said Geoff Smith, vice president of the Woodstock Institute.

“We know homeowners lose and banks lose, but what is a little less visible is how much cities lose and how much equity disappears in people’s properties,” said Colleen Hernandez, executive director and president of the Minneapolis-based Homeownership Preservation Foundation.

Even municipalities such as Aurora, which has a property-maintenance code that clamps down on neglected buildings, are finding they need to step up their enforcement.

Aurora has had a registry for rentals and former rentals since 1982, which allowed officials to keep track of properties when they became vacant. The city now has a database of foreclosures and is starting to inspect the exteriors of the properties on it. Officials are also sending the database to 70 banks and Illinois realty agents, making them aware of the property-maintenance requirements.

“We think providing them with this information will allow them to better maintain these properties on their own without the necessity of the city’s direct involvement,” said Mark B. Anderson, assistant director of the city’s Department of Neighborhood Standards.

Aurora has a population of nearly 165,000 and had 805 foreclosures, with 247 of those REOs, in the first half of 2008, according to Woodstock data.

Robert Klein, CEO for Safeguard Properties, which maintains a number of Chicagoland properties, said the company has stepped up its efforts in recent months to talk to cities about the problem.

Northbrook enacted a vacant-building ordinance in 2007 that focuses on board-ups or other unsightly properties.

“I think people really need to be patient,” said Carolyn Brzezinski, director of Northbrook’s Department of Building and Development. “It’s very difficult when there are so many people going through this, the banks are inundated and it’s tough for them to keep up with all the demands.” Northbrook, with a population of 33,407, had 69 foreclosures in the first half of 2008, including 21 REOs.

Oak Park is planning to vote on a vacant building ordinance to help clean up neglected buildings and prod owners of vacant commercial properties. The city of 52,524 had 91 foreclosures and 48 REOs in the first six months of this year.

“This new ordinance has fairly aggressive inspection and maintenance requirements that will create some appropriate tools and incentives for landlords to actively market and modernize the properties,” said Oak Park Village Manager Tom Barwin.

In Oak Forest, Marge Carlson, a resident for 18 years, said she was fed up with abandoned homes in her neighborhood before the ordinance was passed. One home had overstuffed furniture in its front yard and a rotting pool deck in back.

“Basically I think the city should certainly have more control over what goes on within the limits of the city,” said Carlson.



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.



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”.


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.


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, 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.


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.


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.