State Supreme Court Restores Powerful Blight-Fighting Tool

Industry Update
September 25, 2018

Source: Plan Philly

Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court has given Philadelphia back its favorite blight-fighting tool. In a Sept. 13 ruling, state justices  unanimously reaffirmed the city’s ability to force property owners to maintain the appearances of their vacant buildings, reversing a 2015 lower court ruling.

The case centers on the city’s “Doors and Windows” ordinance, which the Department of Licenses and Inspections began enforcing in 2011 as a means to reduce the number of unkempt, boarded-up buildings in Philadelphia neighborhoods.

The regulation intends to serve as a hedge against creeping neighborhood blight. It requires owners on blocks where 80 percent of buildings are occupied to install operable windows and doors on empty structures, instead of just boarding them up.

To compel action, L&I inspectors prominently place a scarlet sticker on the buildings of noncompliant owners. If that doesn’t provoke changes, they go to a special “blight court” set up under the auspices of the Common Pleas Court where fines are negotiated under the eye of a judge. Those owners who don’t comply could be hit with fines of $300 daily per every window and door that remains boarded or open to the elements.

“This was an intentional tool for stopping the disinvestment spiral,” said Alexander Balloon, director of the Tacony Community Development Corporation, which submitted an amicus brief in support of the city. “It was particularly important in middle neighborhoods where you have one house on a block that gets boarded up and then the next one and the next one.”

Property owners who showed up for blight court had a compliance rate of 75 percent, making for 1,284  properties that were fixed up under the regulation.

When the ordinance was enforced between 2011 and 2015, L&I proactively identified vacant buildings that could be salvaged and whose owners could feasibly comply. When they began taking offending property owners to court, they targeted neighborhoods that suffered clusters of windowless properties but where the market remained strong enough that fines could conceivably act as a deterrent. If a house is only worth $5,000, the logic went, the owner is unlikely to pay  fines to keep it.

“Really, the goal isn’t to just put in doors and windows, but to get someone to reoccupy,” said Rebecca Swanson, director of Planning and Analysis for L&I. “That means it’s not going to further deteriorate, it’s not going to become unsafe, we won’t have to demolish it eventually and so we won’t put a hole in the block.”

It’s not only the courts that have scrutinized the city policy. Among researchers, the consensus is that it works.  In 2015, The Reinvestment Fund found that census block groups where L&I concentrated their attentions enjoyed dramatic increases in home sale prices.

Epidemiologists and criminologists at University of Pennsylvania’s medical school found the ordinance resulted in a significant decrease in both serious and nuisance crimes within a half mile of buildings where property owners cleaned up their properties.

But despite the enthusiasm of community groups, academic researchers, and the national media, lower courts ruled that the city could not exercise its police powers for what were deemed beautification purposes.

The dispute at the heart of these cases leads back to a vacant industrial block in Kensington.  The windows and doors ordinance generally applies only to blocks with a vacancy rate of 20 percent or less,  but it also includes a provision that allows L&I commissioners to apply the ordinance in select cases where that threshold isn’t met.

That provision is in place so that if a heavily vacant block borders a stable residential neighborhood, the agency can decide to intervene to keep the contagion from spreading.

That’s what happened with the blocks-long building that once housed the Gretz Brewery on Germantown Avenue and Oxford Street. When L&I took owner Tony Rufo to court, he appealed his numerous windows and doors violations. The judge proved sympathetic to his plight.

“The essential implementation of this ordinance in this case appears to be concerned more with aesthetics and the appearance of occupancy rather than blight, safety and security,” wrote Judge Linda Carpenter, a Common Pleas judge in Philadelphia, in her 2015 decision.

After that ruling, L&I put its enforcement strategy on hold until the appellate courts could hear their case. Under Commissioner Dave Perri, appointed in 2016, the agency has never been able to incorporate the tool into their larger anti-vacancy strategy.

Perri said that with the Supreme Court ruling on its side L&I  will redouble efforts to crack down on vacancy. L&I’s data systems have improved greatly in the last three years, he said, allowing the office to more easily track compliance rates and target which owners to take to court. All of the department’s inspectors will be assigned to look for applicable properties within the census tracts they patrol — a citywide strategy only briefly adopted in 2015 before the ordinance was put on hold.

Swanson said her inbox is already overflowing with emails from community members excited about the return of the regulation. When L&I inspectors are in the field enforcing the doors and windows ordinance — placing the agency’s scarlet stickers on the offending pieces of particle board — they are hailed as heroes.

“We had engagement from the community on this more so than anything else,” said Swanson. “The inspector who’s been doing this since the beginning said little old ladies would come out and give him hugs just for putting up a sticker.”

Harvey Spear of the landlord advocacy group the HAPCO said that his members largely support the idea, although he noted that the fines seem “excessive.”

For groups like Balloon’s Tacony Community Development Corporation, the regulation’s return is a blessing, even though Tacony itself doesn’t have as many boarded-up houses today as it did when the ordinance first went into use in the wake of the Great Recession.

But there are still plenty of other neighborhoods that need the help.

“Philadelphia is in a much stronger market position now than we were when this was introduced,” said Balloon. “But we still have lots of vacant buildings. No one wants to live next to a boarded up, unmaintained house that aesthetically steals value from its neighbors.”



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.