N.J. Towns Tackle Abandoned Homes as ?Zombie Foreclosures? Climb

Updated 1/19/16: The office of U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) issued a press release titled Menendez Leads Meeting to Address NJ Foreclosure Crisis, Protect Homeowners, Communities.

Link to press release

Legislation Update
November 10, 2015

Law lets municipalities fine creditors if properties fall into disrepair

EAST ORANGE, N.J.—The light-green house on the corner used to look like all the other tidy homes along tree-lined North Grove Street, but last week a city cleanup crew encountered months-worth of debris and overgrowth.

“She used to keep it nice,” longtime neighbor William Berry said of the woman who lived there for years. “She used to have flowers in the front.”

Today, the single-family home with broken basement windows and peeling paint is vacant and in foreclosure, making it one of East Orange’s 423 properties considered to be “zombie foreclosures.” Some 160 of these homes are in such a state of disrepair that they have drawn complaints from neighbors and fines from the city.

New Jersey has the nation’s highest rate of zombie foreclosures, according to a report last month by market researcher RealtyTrac. There are 63,977 houses in foreclosure across the state, 6.2% of which are considered zombies.

Zombie foreclosures have fallen 43% nationwide in the past year, according to RealtyTrac, but in New Jersey they have increased 28.6%. The problem in New Jersey has been exacerbated by the lingering issues related to superstorm Sandy.

Last month, U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, Democrats from New Jersey, sent a letter to federal housing officials urging action to help homeowners and municipalities dealing with zombie foreclosures.

To help pay for the abandoned houses’ upkeep, some cities and towns are taking advantage of a year-old state law that allows municipalities to fine the creditors of vacant and foreclosing homes up to $2,500 a day if the properties aren’t maintained.

According to the law, local officials must inform creditors that the property they are foreclosing on has been abandoned and needs maintenance. The creditor has 30 days to comply before the city can issue fines.

Staci Berger, president and CEO of the Housing and Community Development Network of New Jersey, an organization that advocates for low- and moderate-income residents, said the law gives cities and towns the resources they need to combat blight.

“There’s a financial penalty for failing to maintain the property that isn’t borne by the taxpayers,” she said.

In East Orange, the house on North Grove Street was once owned by a businessman who died in 1994 and left the home to his three children, according to his granddaughter Judith Dunkley. The youngest, Sandra Mitchell, moved in after her father’s death but didn’t pay the taxes, Ms. Dunkley said.

Ms. Dunkley’s mother, the estate’s executor, had been paying the tax bill before she developed Alzheimer’s, though she didn’t live in the house, her daughter said.

Ms. Mitchell, who lived in the house for 21 years, said she left in early September after unsuccessfully fighting the foreclosure. She said she kept up the house for two decades and was willing to pay the tax bill, but had trouble getting the necessary paperwork.

“Had I been given notice in a timely manner where I could have made arrangements to do something, I would have,” Ms. Mitchell said.

East Orange has issued $4,000 in fines against Pact Investments LLC—which acquired the house through a tax foreclosure in July 2014—for failing to maintain the property, city officials said.

Avram Frisch, Pact’s attorney, said his client wasn’t aware the home was abandoned and denied receiving notice from the city about maintenance problems.

In East Orange, vacant and abandoned properties represent about 10% of the 4-square-mile city’s residential housing stock, according to city officials. Mayor Lester Taylor’s administration has started an aggressive anti-blight campaign, and in July hired 12 residents for a team charged with cleaning up vacant and derelict properties.

East Orange has issued court summonses to the creditors of 160 abandoned and foreclosing homes during the past year, which will net the city $320,000 in revenue if a court approves the fines, city officials said.

“We tell folks, ‘We don’t want your money, we want you to maintain your property,’ ” Mr. Taylor said.

The money will help pay for the cleanup, but city officials said they prefer that owners—whether they are residents or lenders of foreclosed homes—do the work themselves.

East Orange isn’t the only city issuing fines on foreclosing houses. Newark collects about $40,000 a week from creditors of vacant and abandoned properties, mainly multifamily houses, according to the city.

Other New Jersey cities and towns, including Paterson, Asbury Park and Deptford Township, are building registries to track vacant and abandoned properties, and plan to start issuing fines, officials said.

New Jersey’s banking industry supported the 2014 law, said Mike Affuso, senior vice president for the New Jersey Bankers Association. It is in the banks’ interest to keep up the properties they are planning to sell, and the law gives local creditors enough time to address blight before they are fined, he said.

“If you do the right thing under the law you’re not going to be penalized,” Mr. Affuso said.

Creditors most susceptible to fines are out-of-state, nonbank entities, which Mr. Affuso said own the majority of New Jersey’s vacant and abandoned homes and have greater logistical difficulty maintaining them.

Foreclosure in New Jersey typically takes 2½ to three years. The lengthy process increases the likelihood of owner abandonment and raises costs for lenders, Mr. Affuso said.

“There is an extraordinarily strong correlation between properties that have been in foreclosure for a long period of time and dilapidation,” Mr. Affuso said.

In East Orange, abandoned and blighted homes cause problems for the entire neighborhood, city officials said. Rats and feral cats take up occupancy, overgrown shrubbery blocks the sidewalk and lawns become targets for illegal dumping. Squatters sometimes move in and use the property to fix up old cars or store lawn equipment.

“For every block that has a blighted house, there are lots of other residents paying taxes,” said Christopher Coke, director of the East Orange Department of Public Works. “Why should they have to live next to something that’s in shambles?”

Corrections & Amplifications:

Four hundred twenty-three properties in East Orange are so-called “zombie” foreclosures. A headline on an earlier version of this article said 10% of the city’s properties. (11/11/2015)

Source: The Wall Street Journal



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.