Safeguard Discusses High Hopes in Ohio

High Hopes in Ohio
Derelict Cleveland neighborhood is targeted as a model for community revitalization.
By Robert Klein

It’s a basic economic principle that when supply exceeds demand, prices go down. Housing prices in the U.S. continue to decline because the supply of available properties far exceeds the pool of potential buyers. In many neighborhoods, the problem is further exacerbated by the presence of deteriorated, vacant, and abandoned properties that have lost most of their value and negatively impact the value of surrounding properties.

The S&P/Case Shiller 20-city home price index in November 2011 showed that property values in the United States had fallen 3.7 percent since November 2010 and 33 percent since 2006. In a February 2012 article citing that report, the Wall Street Journal observed that the data included foreclosed properties that sold at lower prices than their previous sales because of deterioration and poor maintenance.

It is a scenario that plays in communities across the country. Home values in what were once solid middle-class neighborhoods that epitomized “pride of ownership” fell because of the growing presence of vacant and abandoned properties. As the numbers of neglected and decaying properties increases more homeowners with negative equity in their homes simply abandon them. By the time these abandoned homes move through the foreclosure process, which can take months and even years in some states, they too deteriorate and lose much of their value. Low-value properties often become nuisances and eyesores in their neighborhoods and negatively impact the housing values of surrounding properties. Even worse, they deter prospective homebuyers from moving into the neighborhood, further perpetuating the cycle of foreclosure and declining property values.

To reverse that cycle, a comprehensive approach is required to address three critical needs: 1) demolition of substandard and unsalvageable properties; 2) possession and rehabilitation of vacant properties; and 3) assistance for existing homeowners in distress. All three strategies must be undertaken simultaneously.

A Pilot in Development
The Slavic Village neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio, became the face of the nation’s housing crisis in 2007 when it experienced the highest foreclosure rate in the country. Today, it and many communities like it have reached a tipping point. They retain a strong core of residents, businesses, civic leaders, churches, and neighborhood organizations committed to revitalization. With a solid plan of action, these com-munities can be saved. Without one, the cycle of decline will continue.

Because of its potential for redevelopment, a pilot project is being planned for Slavic Village that could become a model for other communities. It is a collaboration between the community development organization, Slavic Village Development, the mortgage servicing industry and investors, and Cleveland-based national companies Safeguard Properties and Forest City Enterprises, each with a strong commitment to community development and revitalization.High Hopes in OhioDerelict Cleveland neighborhood is targeted as a model for community revitalization.

It also will involve participation from the city of Cleveland, Cuyahoga County, the county’s land bank, neighborhood development organizations, credit counseling agencies, and the mortgage servicing industry.

The pilot will simultaneously address the need for demolition, property rehabilitation, and homeowner assistance. The strength of the program is that it takes a wide view to assess the needs and develop action plans for large blocks of properties within an entire community rather than a “one-off” approach that fails to make an impact.

A target area of 2,216 homes, among approximately 9,000 housing units in Slavic Village, was selected for the pilot. Approximately 1,942, or 88 percent, are occupied and 274, or 12 percent, are vacant.

Demolish What Can’t Be Saved
Until unsalvageable vacant and abandoned properties can be demolished, the rebuilding process can’t begin. The very presence of these properties saps the life out of the neighborhood. They are eyesores and nuisances that attract criminal activity. Many have been stripped of their plumbing, siding, furnaces, woodwork, lighting, and anything that gave them character. They are beyond repair, and nobody will invest in them. Worse yet, nobody will invest in the properties around them until the eyesores are gone.

Demolition doesn’t shrink communities or reduce the supply of existing housing. It eliminates nuisance structures that hold back redevelopment. This is why the first step in the pilot is to identify unsalvageable properties and obtain the funding necessary to demolish them. Under the pilot, approximately 64 homes were identified for demolition because they were found vacant, unsecured, and in unsalvageable condition. Once a detailed analysis of vacant and boarded properties has been completed, more properties may be added to the demolition list.

Once these properties are demolished, the vacant land can be transformed in various ways. Some will become green spaces and infrastructures for streetscapes, bike lanes, walking trails, community gardens, and other amenities. Neighbors next door to vacant land will have the opportunity to expand their yards. Other properties will be conducive for commercial development.

Funding for the demolition will be sought in partnership with the city of Cleveland, the Cuyahoga County Land Bank, and mortgage servicers. Green space and infrastructure partners will include the city of Cleveland, neighborhood development organizations, foundations, and other governmental and community agencies.

Rehab Properties to Sell or Rent
The pilot will rely on the private sector to rehabilitate vacant properties to provide safe, well-maintained, and affordable housing for rent or purchase.

Under the pilot, approximately 200 vacant properties will be identified for rehabilitation. Once repaired and remodeled, the homes will be available for direct purchase or through a lease-purchase for homeowners who either do not qualify for loans or who are working to repair their credit. Homes in need of modest repairs may also be marketed at a lower cost to qualified “do it yourselfers” who can demonstrate the financial ability to make needed repairs. A key component of this phase also will include credit counseling to help homeowners become and remain fiscally responsible.

Safeguard Properties will oversee the repair and remodeling of homes to ensure work meets established standards for quality, timeliness, and budget. This will help assure homebuyers—especially first-time homebuyers—that they will not incur major unexpected expenses on their homes for a reasonable period. Unexpected and expensive repairs, or repair work done improperly, are major reasons why many homeowners either fall behind on their mortgages or their homes fall into disrepair.

Financing, property management, credit counseling, loan assistance, and related services will be done in partnership with Slavic Village and neighborhood housing agencies.

Although not part of the pilot, it is important to note that a major contributor to the deterioration of vacant properties is the fact that Ohio has one of the longest foreclosure processes in the country. When properties are occupied, an extended foreclosure process makes sense to give homeowners time to work out their finances and keep their homes. However, when homes are vacant and abandoned, there is no homeowner to protect. Until the foreclosure can be completed, a servicer, a land bank, or other entity can’t take legal possession or assume full responsibility to repair a property and get it reoccupied. The longer a property sits vacant, the greater the risk that it will deteriorate, lose value, and negatively impact surrounding properties.

This is why Ohio is among the states considering legislation to accelerate vacant and abandoned properties for foreclosure. This will help to protect the condition and value of properties, especially those in neighborhoods such as Slavic Village, with older housing stock that provides affordable and decent housing for first-time homebuyers and people with modest incomes. The more vacant properties the coalition can protect and preserve, the more housing it can make available to people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to own a home.

Assist Distressed Homeowners
Helping distressed homeowners remain in their homes is critical to reduce the numbers of vacant and abandoned properties and uphold property values. The Slavic Village pilot includes two initiatives to help existing homeowners who are in financial distress. One offers assistance with home repairs. The other assists with loan modifications.

It is estimated that 10 percent of occupied homes in Slavic Village require repairs to correct code violations. Many homeowners, especially the elderly, simply do not have the financial or physical ability to make repairs. Under the pilot, financial support will be sought through foundations and other organizations to help an estimated 170 homeowners in the target area make needed repairs to bring their properties up to code and protect their condition and value. This will be coupled with code enforcement action to ensure that homeowners follow through with the needed repairs.

Pilot partners with Slavic Village development for this portion of the initiative will be the city of Cleveland, foundations, and neighborhood housing agencies.

Approximately 25 percent of homeowners in the community—about 266 within the target area—are believed to require some type of loan modification, either because they are in serious default their mortgages are underwater, or they have high-risk loans.
Under the pilot, these homeowners will receive loan modification assistance. This assistance will come through neighborhood housing agencies and mortgage servicers.

A Vision for the Future
In many ways, the vision for the future of Slavic Village is to return to its not-so-distant past. In the 1990s, it was a thriving blue-collar community. Its population was growing even as other neighborhoods in the city were declining. It offered affordable and well-maintained housing, safe neighborhoods, and a strong sense of community. Its anchors were its churches, schools, senior centers, recreation facilities, and other amenities. It provided good public transportation and close proximity to downtown Cleveland. Its restaurants, bakeries, art studios, markets, and other small businesses were a destination for residents from surrounding communities. Its streets bustled with life as children rode bikes, families took walks, and neighbors looked out for one another.

In every sense it was, and still is, a community. Despite its challenges, Slavic Village’s civic leaders, residents, and businesses remain committed to restoring their community’s former quality of life and building a bright future both for current residents and those yet to come. A pilot for community revitalization could not find a more worthy testing ground.

The project bears watching, as its success could be replicated in neighborhoods and communities across the country. The key is simultaneously addressing existing inventories of neglected and low-value properties that drag down property values, providing assistance to existing homeowners in distress, and protecting and restoring habitable properties to attract new home buyers and spur a housing recovery.

Robert Klein is founder and chairman of Safeguard Properties, the largest privately held mortgage field service company in the country Since founding Safeguard in 1990, Klein has been an industry advocate to advance best practices.Until unsalvageable vacant and abandoned properties can be demolished, the rebuilding process can’t begin.

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About Safeguard
Safeguard Properties is the largest privately held field services company in the country. Located in Cleveland, Ohio and founded in 1990 by Robert Klein, Safeguard has grown from a regional preservation company with a few employees  and a handful of contractors performing services in the Midwest, to a national company with nearly 1,000 employees. Safeguard is supported by a nationwide network of subcontractors able to perform any requested superintendence, preservation, and maintenance functions, as well as numerous ancillary services in the U.S., the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico.

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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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CHEIF 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, 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.

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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.