First Responders Getting Past the Plywood

Industry Update
January 31, 2017

The property preservation industry’s age-old standard for securing windows on vacant residential homes, plywood, has come under heavy scrutiny in the last couple of years due to issues that can arise when a plywood-secured property sits vacant for any period of time—squatters, vandalism, community blight, and violent crime.

The industry has taken various measures to combat these issues—for instance, in November 2016 Fannie Mae announced that all of its residential properties in pre-foreclosure would be required to use an alternative to plywood to secure the homes.

These issues affect more than those in the mortgage industry and in the community where the vacant properties are located, however. First responders are aware that anytime they are called to a vacant property, there might be danger lurking inside—and that the vacant property might not be truly vacant.

The Seattle Fire Department has concerns when responding to structures that have been physically modified, as it creates very dangerous and hazardous situations for our firefighters,” Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins said. “It is such a significant problem that we have created standard operating guidelines for derelict buildings to try and ensure the safety of our firefighters when responding to these types of buildings. In the vacant or abandoned buildings alone this year, SFD has seen 16 fires in these kinds of structures.”

In an area such as Miami, is hurricane-prone, homeowners sometimes board their windows up through hurricane season.

“Any time we encounter a situation where there are boards on the windows, we never look at those properties as unoccupied. We never do that,” said Captain Bill Gustin of Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.

When he is called to a property and there are boards on the windows, Gustin said the procedure is to look for extension cords running from the property to the home next door, where squatters may be borrowing electricity.

“Several times I’ve cut the wood and seen people who are in there jump up and run out of there like a scared rabbit,” Gustin said.

As they do with any situation, first responders are careful to consider safety first when entering a boarded-up house.

“The first thing we need to do is make sure the scene is safe,” said Capt. Joseph Amador, Fire Captain with the San Diego Fire Department and Public Information Officer. “If the house is boarded up, or something like that, and I don’t think that it’s safe for my firefighters or EMTs to enter, then we will not enter. We’ll call for the police department to come and give us a backup and maybe clear the area for us to come on in.”

An unexpected situation could cause a change in plans for first responders, Amador said.

“We’re there with the intention to help someone who has called for assistance, and we’re unable to reach that patient because someone is there to cause us harm or someone is standing in our way, obviously we don’t want that to happen,” he said. “With that in mind, we’ll call for assistance or back out.”

If there is a fire inside a boarded-up structure, the home loses ventilation over time and causes the fire to slowly die. When firefighters enter a home with limited ventilation and a fire is smoldering inside, the sudden influx of oxygen on the embers could cause the house to quickly become “a roman candle,” Gustin said.

“One of the issues is going to be ventilating the structure,” said Lt. Steven Lawrence, Deputy Fire Marshal and Public Information Officer with the St. Petersburg (Florida) Fire Department. “If we have an active fire inside, firefighter safety is our concern. Not only is our safety a concern, but being able to get the superheated gases and smoke out of the structure are going to be a priority for us to deal with. The other thing with the boarded-up structure is, you don’t know what type of condition the interior is in. A lot of times in our area, vagrants will get into the property and demolish it or steal the wiring out of the property. You never know what you’re going into when it’s a vacant structure, especially when it’s boarded up. Our biggest concern is what are we getting into and how easily could we get our people out in an emergency situation.”

The issues brought on by using plywood to board up vacant homes have prompted some innovators to create alternatives to plywood (such as polycarbonate clearboarding and steel) that do not create the same concerns as plywood.

“Those houses are used frequently by squatters, sometimes as drug houses to sell drugs out of, or drugs houses to use drugs in,” said Mike Taylor, State Secretary and Legislative Chairman with the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio. “So you have that direct law enforcement problem of a vacant and abandoned property to begin with. With plywood on the windows, vacant and abandoned properties are easily identified. You get sent on dispatch runs or calls there for a suspicious person or possible drug dealer, and you arrive at the property, and you can’t do any type of short-term surveillance where you can look in the windows and see what may or may not be in there or may or may not be going on. If you have a view through the windows through some sort of substance other than plywood, it’s a huge advantage, not just for police but for fire that gets sent on those runs, so you can at least look inside before you approach or try and gain entrance to the property.”

Ultimately, houses boarded up by plywood can adversely affect the entire community, according to Taylor.

“It brings a whole different character to the neighborhood, and with that brings other types of crimes that may or may not actually be occurring inside the vacant property,” Taylor said. “Because of the blight it brings on the neighborhood, it lowers the standards of the neighborhood, at least within a block or so, can bring its own set of problems beyond what may or may not be going on inside the vacant property.”

In January 2017, a white paper written by former U.S. Treasury Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy Aaron Klein titled Understanding the True Costs of Abandoned Properties: How Maintenance Can Make a Difference estimated that one year of vacancy for one property causes around $150,000 in damages. That same month, Ohio became the first state to ban the use of plywood on vacant properties.

“Plywood is an outdated solution to a growing modern-day problem,” said Robert Klein, Chairman and Founder of Ohio-based Community Blight Solutions (no relation to Aaron Klein). “We need to apply 21st century solutions to reverse the trends that are decimating our neighborhoods. It is my hope that other states will follow Ohio’s leadership and enact similar legislation.”

In recent years, polycarbonate clearboarding has become a popular alternative to plywood for securing windows in vacant homes. Fannie Mae began using clearboarding to secure vacant homes in REO properties in 2013 and went nationwide with it starting in early 2014. But using it in the pre-foreclosure process began recently with the announcement of the new allowable in early November.

“The use of clearboarding gives off the appearance of a normal window, so the curb appeal is much higher on a clearboarded property versus plywood boarded,” said Jake Williamson, VP, Real Estate Fulfillment & Operational Analysis at Fannie Mae. “The first thing is the curb appeal. (Polycarbonate) does give off the perspective that it’s just a normal home in a market where you’re trying to compete with non-distressed sales, that it’s just a normal home. The second thing is, it’s an incredibly secure product. You can literally throw a cinder block at it and it’s not going to shatter or crack.”

Source: DS News

Additional Resource:

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.