Philadelphia Land Bank Releases Plan to Tackle Vacancy

Updated 1/26:  On January 22, PLANETIZEN published a post titled Strategic Plan for Philadelphia Land Bank Gains Approval.

Link to article

Updated 12/2:  On December 2, posted an article titled Council panel OKs ‘strategic plan’ for Philly Land Bank.

Link to article

On October 2, news website PLANPHILLY published an article detailing the Philadelphia Land Bank’s recently released five year strategic plan draft.

Philadelphia Land Bank releases plan to tackle vacancy

The Philadelphia Land Bank, a nascent agency organized to streamline the redevelopment of thousands of Philadelphia’s vacant and tax-delinquent properties, released a draft of a strategic plan on Wednesday recommending a number of goals the new body should pursue over the next five years.

The plan, which was written by a team led by Philadelphia-based Interface Studios, is the result of four months of analysis of data provided by various city agencies and meetings with dozens of advocacy groups and city officials who wrestled the Land Bank into existence.

The Land Bank board will solicit community feedback at a public hearing in mid-October and complete a final draft of the plan by the end of the month.  The plan will then be sent to City Council for its approval.

Those who’ve followed the development of the Land Bank closely over the past few years won’t find any major surprises in the draft plan.  Its overarching goal is simple:  “to return vacant and tax delinquent property to productive reuse.”  Deceptively simple, perhaps, given that the Land Bank itself wouldn’t have been created if those few words didn’t represent an intricate, elusive goal for Philadelphia and other cities around the country.

The Land Bank is intended to address the vacancy problem by consolidating ownership of city-owned properties, acquiring privately owned tax-delinquent properties, clearing tax liens and tangled titles, and selling or otherwise transferring properties in its inventory for development or other community uses. According to the plan, it will seek to promote new affordable and market-rate housing development, the creation of new businesses and the expansion of existing ones, the vitality of urban agriculture, and the availability of open space and green infrastructure.

As part of the strategic planning process, Interface Studio—along with partners Real Estate Strategies, Inc. and Lamar Wilson Associates—provided an updated inventory of vacant and tax-delinquent parcels in Philadelphia.

  • Roughly 8,000 vacant parcels are currently under some form of public ownership in Philadelphia and not committed to a specific project.
  • Another 24,000 properties are vacant and tax-delinquent but privately owned, according to the plan.
  • Of those 32,000 potential Land Bank properties, around 9,000 are vacant buildings.
  • The team identified more than 100 “assemblage opportunities,” each involving more than 10 vacant properties.
  • 2,100 vacant lots sit next to homes whose owners are up-to-date on their taxes.

The data used to populate the report came from the city’s own public inventory of vacant land, property surveys conducted by the City Planning Commission and by Interface Studio, the Water Department and the Office of Innovation and Technology and—in the case of privately owned, tax-delinquent and vacant properties—the Revenue Department.

In an interview with PlanPhilly on Monday, John Carpenter, a deputy director for the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority, said that the various city agencies that hold property were helpful and forthcoming with the information. But Scott Page, the founder and principal of Interface Studio, acknowledged that the data still isn’t complete.

“We say in the report a number of times that the data is imperfect, and everyone is aware that that data is imperfect,” said Page.  “One thing we learned in the process is that regardless of what dataset we looked at—whether it was Water Department or L&I or a combination of both or even the Planning Commission district data—it didn’t change the geography of where there’s a concentration of vacancy, it just changed the intensity … In terms of where there are real opportunities for the Land Bank to play a role, the geographies aren’t really changing.” 

The plan outlines seven goals for the Land Bank.  The first, a citywide goal, is to return individual vacant properties to productive use by identifying and marketing individual development opportunities (IDOs), transferring one-off vacant properties to adjacent owners as side yards, and preserving existing community gardens.

The next set of goals are focused on specific areas with high levels of vacant properties where the Land Bank will “proactively acquire, assemble, and dispose of property for specific purposes based on determined need and opportunity.” The goals are:

  • Promoting equitable development by supporting existing initiatives, such as Council President Darrell Clarke’s plan to build 1,500 new affordable housing units, and working to preserve affordability in neighborhoods undergoing gentrification.  The plan recommends targeting new affordable housing in areas with good access to food and transit, and with a high concentration of “cost-burdened renters.”
  • Fostering private development by offering land for market-rate projects that include affordable housing components.
  • Supporting economic development by acquiring and repurposing properties on neighborhood commercial corridors and adjacent to existing businesses.
  • Protecting and increasing open space in areas that lack it.

There are focus zones where those goals will be pursued.

The final goals outlined in the plan emphasize the transparent and efficient operation of the Land Bank.  Its planning should coincide with the plans already underway as part of the Planning Commission’s Philadelphia2035 process, it recommends.  Data should continue to form the foundation of Land Bank operations, and the public and stakeholder groups should have frequent opportunities to participate in its development.  Additionally, properties within the Land Bank should be actively marketed to keep property moving into productive hands.

The immediate priorities of the Land Bank, according to the plan, should be to pursue the low-lying fruit, dispositions that establish the entity as an efficient, successful new tool for tackling vacancy in the city.  That could include early actions like acquiring and transferring individual properties for side yards, infill developments, and existing community gardens. Additionally, the Land Bank should selectively acquire private tax-delinquent properties to enhance the marketability of vacant properties that are already in the public inventory.

Jennifer Kates, an aide to Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez, who sponsored the Land Bank legislation, and a member of the Land Bank board, said that the data analysis underpinning the strategic plan is a significant accomplishment that will guide a more productive approach to undoing vacancy and tax delinquency.  Kates also said that she’s excited about the inclusion of “decision trees,” pictured below, that will help shape the Land Bank’s approach to finding new uses for vacant properties.

“These [decision trees] represent a major step forward in approaching property acquisition and disposition strategically,” Kates wrote in an email.  “One of the greatest frustrations with the old system is that there is so little guidance about what uses are viable for a particular location.  For example, is infill housing development possible now, or in the near term? Does parking make sense at this location? Is this a potential assembly site?  Finally we are in a position to have that kind of guidance.”

When it is submitted to Council, the plan will also include specific targets for acquisition and disposition of properties, for specific uses, in each of the next five years.  Those targets will be broken down into seven end uses:  side yards and parking spaces, individual development opportunities, existing community gardens, affordable housing, market-rate housing, economic development, and open space.  In the current draft, the plan sets a target of having all 8,000 identified publicly owned vacant properties in the Land Bank by the end of 2016.  By the end of the 5-year period, it recommends the disposition of 2,750 of those properties.  No targets have been set yet for acquisition of privately owned tax-delinquent properties.

Councilwoman Sánchez did not respond to a request for comment on this story. Council President Darrell Clarke’s office said it would withhold comments until a public hearing is held.

Please click here to view the article online.

Please click here to view the full plan draft online.

About Safeguard 
Safeguard Properties is the largest mortgage field services company in the U.S. Founded in 1990 by Robert Klein and based in Valley View, Ohio, the company inspects and maintains defaulted and foreclosed properties for mortgage servicers, lenders, and other financial institutions. Safeguard employs approximately 1,700 people, in addition to a network of thousands of contractors nationally.



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.