Miami Herald “U.S. mayors seek solutions to vacant-homes crisis”

The Miami Herald recently printed?two articles regarding the U.S. Conference of Mayors held in Miami, Florida, both of which quoted Robert Klein.

U.S. mayors seek solutions to vacant-homes crisis

The lawns were growing wild. The trash was piling up. And the mayor of Louisville, Ky., was tired of getting stuck with the tab for cleaning up someone else’s property.

So, Jerry Abramson picked up the phone and called the senior vice president of Wells Fargo, one of the country’s largest mortgage lenders and owner of multiple, derelict foreclosures in his city.

”You owe me $27,000 for the month of October,” Abramson told the lending executive, “How do I collect?”

Underscoring one of the chief frustrations cities face in dealing with the nation’s foreclosure crisis — collecting on liens for code violations, Abramson kicked off a strategy session at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Miami Sunday to tackle the growing problem of vacant and abandoned property.

As the nation’s cities tighten budgets amid a slowing economy, preventing vacant homes from falling into decay and dragging down property values is becoming increasingly difficult. At least 2.2 million homes are expected to fall into foreclosure by the time the mortgage crisis ends, according to a report prepared for the mayors by the market and economic research firm Global Insight.

Many will remain empty for months, if not years, while the housing market recovers, potentially becoming objects of blight and targets for vandalism and theft.

”There is a huge bubble just beyond the horizon and I am really scared,” said Bill Finch, mayor of Bridgeport, Conn. “I have two [foreclosures] on my block and I live in a nice neighborhood and there is grass growing high.”

Nationwide, some 44.5 million homes sit adjacent to subprime foreclosures alone, according to estimates from Enterprise Community Partners, a national nonprofit that assists cities in developing affordable housing programs. Each home stands to lose $5,000 in value as a result, said Ali Solis, an Enterprise director who spoke at the hour-long session.

Most city code enforcement directors don’t have the phone numbers of banking officials in their Rolodex as Abramson does, however. Hunting down executives so violations can be corrected quickly and at minimal expense is easier said than done.

”When you are dealing with international conglomerates, it can be very difficult to get to the individual who is responsible for the problem,” said Robert Klein, chief executive of Safeguard Properties, which contracts with lenders for property maintenance services. He said his organization had partnered with the Mortgage Bankers Association to provide a resource site where city leaders can easily find lender contacts.

When lenders fail to respond, however, cities must act before properties decay, leaving taxpayers with a bill that may never be paid.

”How do we work to get cities and taxpayers back the dollars they are due?” Abramson asked. No one appeared to have a direct answer.

But Jeffrey Starkey, code enforcement commissioner for the city of Wilmington, De., said his department had begun immediately ticketing property owners for violations, much the way cars are ticketed for parking violations. Most cities must follow a protracted code enforcement process that can allow weeks to pass before property owners begin accruing fines for violations.

On a separate front, cities face the challenge of recycling homes back into neighborhoods, either when they foreclose on liens or the homes become undesirable to buyers because they are in disrepair. Several South Florida municipalities are exploring options.

Miami Gardens’ city manager Danny Crew has said his city, for instance, was preparing to foreclose on a batch of vacant homes for unpaid liens in the coming months. One plan on the table is renovating them to offer as affordable housing.

Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis told mayors at a separate task force meeting Friday his Broward County community was exploring the possibility of assuming delinquent mortgages on homes currently occupied by renters as a way to prevent further foreclosures.

Their efforts could get a boost from Congress this week when the Senate takes up a housing stimulus bill that, along with making it easier for at-risk borrowers to refinance into government-backed loans, would also provide nearly $4 billion in neighborhood stabilization money that hard hit states could use to purchase and rehabilitate bank-owned property.

Florida would stand to get $288 million of that, under a funding formula included in the bill, or enough to restore 8,669 homes, according to the nonprofit Enterprise.

President Bush opposes the grant measure and has threatened a veto of the bill if it is included.

”Congress has not heard from enough mayors that this funding is critically important,” said Solis, who urged task force members to ”get on the horn” to their local representatives.

”In the next 18 months . . every single community will be directly impacted by foreclosure and see a significant decrease in property values,” Solis said.

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Foreclosure crisis a concern for mayors

Facing constituents losing their homes and an eroding tax base needed to address the problem, America’s mayors assessed their role as first responders to the foreclosure plague sweeping through their communities.

”This entire crisis still continues,” Douglas Palmer, mayor of Trenton, N.J., said Friday in opening remarks to about 18 mayors and real estate industry leaders gathered in Miami for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

The crisis’ potential impact was revealed in a new report revising the total property value lost from foreclosures to $1.46 trillion in 363 of the country’s largest cities by the end of the year, up from a November estimate of $1.2 trillion. The number of homes in foreclosure is also expected to rise 2.2 million, according to the study prepared for the conference by market and economic research group Global Insight.

PLUNGING VALUES

Home values in Miami-Dade and Broward counties could fall by an average of $47,571 per home, for a total decline in value of more than $60 million, the report said. David Iaia, a principal with Global Insight, told mayors the nation’s cities would remain on unstable ground until at least mid-2009 when the last major wave of adjustable-rate subprime loans should have reset.

Meanwhile, the mayors will be called on to help delinquent borrowers get foreclosure counseling, maintain vacant properties and use the bully pulpit to push for regulatory change in Congress.

Brian Montgomery, a housing commissioner for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, urged mayors to support the passage of legislation modernizing the Federal Housing Administration that would help expand affordable loans to new homeowners and help at-risk borrowers refinance. Other priorities were discussed, including finding additional funding sources for local counseling agencies and airing public service announcements about foreclosure alternatives.

VACANT HOMES

Central also to the 90-minute discussion were strategies for dealing with a growing number of vacant homes. Robert Klein, president and chief executive of Safeguard Properties, which manages real estate owned by lenders, said 22 percent of the 600,000 foreclosures his company inspected last month were unoccupied, placing them at risk of vandalism and other problems that could make them more difficult to sell.

They can also cause problem for cities concerned that blight will affect neighboring property values and drain municipal resources.

To address the problem in Florida, Lauderhill Mayor Richard Kaplan said he was drafting legislation to require lenders to register properties with the state. ”The biggest opponent to it is the lenders,” Kaplan said.

Earlier this month, Coral Springs became one of the first cities in South Florida to pass a law requiring registration of vacant foreclosures along with a fee, stiff fines, and an expedited code enforcement mechanism for dealing with derelict properties. Kaplan said a national registry was needed instead.

”Right now, each community is coming up with its own regulation and guidelines and there is no way a mortgage service company can deal with 500 different ordinances,” Klein said.

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CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER

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.

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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.

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CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER

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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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AVP, Mobile and Analytics

Jason Heckman

Jason Heckman is the assistant vice president of mobile and analytics for Safeguard. He is responsible for both Safeguard’s mobile development and strategy as well as the company’s data warehousing and business intelligence. Jason oversees the design, development and release of all Safeguard’s internally developed mobile applications. He also oversees the development and delivery of operational and analytical data technologies throughout the organization.

Jason joined Safeguard as manager of mobile in 2012. During that time he led the development and integration of Safeguard’s mobile applications across the company’s vendor network to provide real-time data from the field. In 2014, he was promoted to director of mobile applications and named assistant vice president in 2017.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Jason was the director of application development and business intelligence for Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana.

Jason holds a bachelor’s degree in business management from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.

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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.