San Diego Union Tribune – City under gun to ease blight fight

Robert Klein, CEO of Safeguard Properties and chair of the Mortgage Bankers Association’s vacant property registration committee, was quoted in an article about the aggressive code enforcement of vacant properties in Chula Vista, California.

City under gun to ease blight fight

Lenders squeezed by Chula Vista’s fines, penalties

Chula Vista’s tough anti-blight ordinance has become a national model for requiring lenders to maintain vacant foreclosed homes before they fall into disrepair, but the city is under mounting pressure to reduce the measure’s stiff fines and give lenders more time to improve properties.

The city broke new ground in the fall of 2007 by enacting regulations that allowed it to issue citations for blighted dwellings after lenders filed notices of default, which mark the start of the foreclosure process.

So far, Chula Vista has levied fines totaling more than $1.3 million and collected about $752,000. Registration fees for vacant homes under the program have reached about $183,000.

Some critics say an unintended consequence of the ordinance may be to delay the recovery of the local real estate market. Faced with large fines, some banks may become reluctant to do business in the city, they say.

Initially, some lenders expressed shock at fines that on occasion can exceed $10,000. Officials say the large penalties were necessary to force a change in lender behavior.

Traditionally, cities have waited until lenders have taken formal possession of abandoned foreclosed homes before issuing citations. That can take months in some cases, forcing municipalities to address blight issues on their own. Typically, they remove weeds and drain swimming pools, seeking reimbursement later. Chula Vista has used its measure to place the burden on lenders.

The program requires banks and loan servicers to inspect foreclosed properties to confirm they are occupied. If they are abandoned, the lenders must register the properties with the city and secure and maintain them.

Under the ordinance developed by Doug Leeper, the city’s code enforcement manager, lenders are responsible for upkeep, even if ownership hasn’t formally been transferred to them through foreclosure.

With fines that can reach $1,000 per day, the measure has pushed Chula Vista to the forefront of a national drive to maintain neighborhoods hit hard by the mortgage market meltdown, said Peter Lemos, code enforcement field manager for Stockton.

Stockton is one of more than 200 communities nationally that have adopted anti-blight measures based on Chula Vista’s regulations, Lemos said.

“It brought to light that the lender or the bank is responsible for the vacant properties,” he said. “Before, until you had a new homeowner, no one was responsible.”

Real estate agents typically work closely with lenders, supervising repairs to vacant foreclosed homes and preparing them for resale. Initially, there was little opposition to Chula Vista’s abandoned-property ordinance from agents, said Pat Russiano, president of the Pacific Southwest Association of Realtors, a trade association for South County.

The group has come to believe that banks eventually may avoid doing business in Chula Vista because of the ordinance, Russiano said. With credit tight and many lending institutions struggling to maintain solvency, real estate agents say they don’t want lenders to have another reason not to approve home loans.

“They are already scared to death,” Russiano said. “Why give them one more thing to worry about?”

Large fines could affect lending decisions among banks that already are hurting from widespread home loan failures, said Dave McDonald, government affairs chairman for the San Diego County chapter of the California Association of Mortgage Brokers.

“The effect would not necessarily be redlining, but the manipulation of the foreclosure market,” he said. “If lenders think they will be fined $1,000 a day, there is a motivation to not do business in that area.”

Henish Pulickal is the former manager of San Diego-based Accredited Home Lenders’ department for properties acquired through foreclosure. Accredited, which was caught up in the subprime lending crisis, recently filed for bankruptcy protection. Pulickal said the anti-blight measure places unnecessary burdens on the lending industry.

“They were giving us violations for anything, whether it was a propped-open window, saying it was unsecured, to having dead grass,” Pulickal said.

Jay Norris, an account representative for First American Title, said he recalled a case in which an agreement to sell a foreclosed home fell apart because of a dispute between the city and the bank over a large fine. If banks perceive they are being hurt, they could think twice about how they do loans in Chula Vista, he said.

“There have been a lot of unintended consequences with this ordinance,” said Richard D’Ascoli, director of government affairs for the South County Realtor group. “It’s been a nightmare.”

Fines, in addition to scaring away banks, could end up becoming liens against defaulted properties, discouraging purchases or making lenders reluctant to approve mortgages for the buyers of foreclosed homes, Russiano said.

City officials say such outcomes are highly unlikely. Title insurance protects home buyers and lenders against errors in real estate transactions, such as an undiscovered liens.

Code enforcers stress that they aren’t placing undue pressure on lenders to comply with the abandoned-home measure. Emily Novak, a senior code enforcement officer, said her department gives lenders 30 days to secure abandoned homes and make any necessary repairs. Out of about 3,000 cases in which repairs were needed, fewer than 150 properties have been fined, she added.

Robert Klein, who chairs the Mortgage Bankers Association’s Vacant Property Registration Committee, said he supports measures like the one in Chula Vista. He said it is in everyone’s best interest to deal with abandoned properties early on, before they become blighted.

All lenders need to do to avoid fines is secure and maintain vacant homes until they are sold, said Klein, who heads Safeguard Properties, a property-management firm that represents lenders nationwide.

Alan Mallach, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution, said the ability to levy high fines has enabled Chula Vista to protect its neighborhoods.

“That was really the important step on the part of Chula Vista,” Mallach said. “A lot of people saw that and followed their lead. It was, as far as I know, the first city in the U.S. that really took hold of this matter and said, ?Lenders, you have to take responsibility for these properties.’?”

Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox said the fact that the ordinance has drawn praise as a national model shouldn’t stop the city from taking a look at how well it works or how it affects the real estate and lending industries. A proposal for modifications from the city staff is expected to reach the City Council by the end of this month.

Chula Vista is one of the communities in San Diego County that was hit hardest by the surge in foreclosures. Cox said that with some indications showing the economy is turning around, she hoped there would be less need for the abandoned-home measure. It may be possible to reach a compromise between supporters of the measure and its detractors, Cox said.

The city staff and the Realtors group already have made progress on some issues. There is a tentative agreement to streamline the process for registering abandoned homes within the city, Deputy City Attorney Chance Hawkins said. The city also is open to a proposal to allow vacant homes to be maintained by national property-management firms rather than only local companies.

The mayor said her goal is to have an anti-blight measure that protects neighborhoods without impeding the ability of lenders and real estate agents to do their jobs.

“Lots of cities have copied our ordinance,” Cox said. “That’s always flattering. That hasn’t stopped our staff from saying, ?Is there a way to shift this a little bit, make it a little more effective, a little more palatable?’?”



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.



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”.


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.


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, 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.


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.


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.