When the Waters Recede: Helping Homeowners After Hurricane Harvey

Industry Update
May 11, 2018

Source: DS News

Editor’s Note: This story was originally featured in the May issue of DS News, out now.

According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Harvey caused $125 billion in damage, a higher toll than any previous U.S. natural disaster other than Hurricane Katrina. Harvey damaged more than 200,000 homes in south Texas, destroyed more than 12,000 homes, and displaced nearly 40,000 people.

The Texas Real Estate Year in Review report from the Texas Association of Realtors found home sales and home prices in Texas soaring to all-time highs for the third year in a row during 2017. Texas home sales increased four percent, and the median sales price increased 6.7 percent year-over-year. But while the market might have taken less of a hit than you might expect given the enormous financial and damage impact of Hurricane Harvey on Houston and the Gulf Coast, that hit is still being felt by many of the homeowners struggling to rebuild.

“The industry is looking at different modification strategies,” said Tim Neer, Director of Loan Servicing, Colonial Savings. “We provide a great deal of forbearance to these consumers, so now they’re 90 days behind and we’re trying to figure out how to get them back on track. For the next quarter, probably quarter and a half, that’s where everybody’s focus is going to be.”

FEMA has allocated $1 billion for Texas coastal communities to put toward hazard mitigation against future storms, such as buying out flood-prone homes or repairing seawalls. But for many homeowners who watched their homes invaded by floodwaters, the recovery is much more personal, much more complicated, and often involves questions they simply don’t know the answers to.

To help answer these questions and guide these homeowners, the National Mortgage Servicing Association has partnered with HOPE NOW, an alliance between counselors, mortgage companies, investors, regulators and other mortgage market participants. According to HOPE NOW, the alliance “was encouraged by the Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to bring together diverse stakeholders to address challenges in the mortgage market and create collaborations to solve problems.”

A few weeks before Hurricane Harvey, HOPE NOW held a Housing Roundtable in Houston co-sponsored with the FDIC for nearly 100 local housing professionals. Many concerns were raised over whether the local communities in flood-prone areas were prepared for a major flood. “Unfortunately, the challenges we discussed were very evident when the hurricane hit,” said Eric Selk, Executive Director of HOPE NOW Alliance.

“The industry response from the hurricane was significant,” said Ray Barbone, EVP Bank Operations, BankUnited, and Chairman of the National Mortgage Servicing Association. “Investors, servicers, the agencies, insurers, and regulators all came together with a sense of urgency to develop appropriate solutions and programs to assist homeowners and communities impacted by the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. Notwithstanding the immediacy of the attention and collaboration of the parties, the actual assistance offerings took time to develop and roll out, some longer than others. In the end, I think the lessons learned is that the industry needs a standard set of program and solution offerings on the shelf that can be deployed and utilized upon the strike of a disaster. There will inevitably be others, and there is no reason for us to go back to the drawing board each time one occurs.”

“I think we can all agree that we need a standardized playbook that says, for any disaster that happens, here are the things we’re going to do,” said Neer. “Here are the steps we’re going to take, and here’s the timing of when we’re going to do that. It needs to feel more like a process to our customers and not a knee-jerk reaction while it’s going on.”

In February, the National Mortgage Servicing Association and HOPE NOW began hosting a series of regularly scheduled drop-in center events where hurricane-affected residents can speak to professionals to learn how best to manage their recovery and what resources are available to them. “The events focus on key issues families are facing as they go through the rebuilding process so they can walk away with confidence and feeling support on their next steps,” Selk said.

Participating mortgage servicers will include representatives from Ocwen, Wells Fargo, Mr. Cooper, Carrington, and Wells Fargo. Housing experts will include representatives from Fannie Mae, Texas Department of Insurance, and the FDIC. Attendees will receive insights into rebuilding options, available recovery and assistance programs, and how to spot and avoid scams.

Barbone said, “HOPE NOW was born out of the financial crisis as an alliance of mortgage market participants including servicers, counselors, investors, and regulators. They played a vital role in assisting millions of borrowers with staying in their homes during the crisis. It is only natural that HOPE NOW extends that same assistance to the families and communities impacted by the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. The NMSA is honored to partner with HOPE NOW in support of those efforts to assist families in need.”

“The rebuilding process can be daunting for homeowners,” Selk said. “The worst scenario is a family giving up and abandoning the property. Things get complicated for homeowners when they face multiple challenges including life planning, debt management, and rebuilding. For some families, the process may involve moving, temporary relocation, job loss, or possibly dealing with health questions. We should also consider the needs of special groups of consumers like seniors, who have limited resources and typically live on fixed income.”

What lessons are being taken away from these homeowner events? Selk says there are some patterns to be found. “Two years ago I noticed that about 15-20 percent of our clients were on a fixed income,” said Selk. “These numbers have been tracking consistently. Many families have been modified multiple times. Some participants claim to have been through the loan modification process over three times.”

Selk also spotlights the challenges presented in states with longer foreclosure timelines. “These issues beg larger questions about assistance programs and understanding the human condition. HOPE NOW advocates for streamlined solutions for all mortgage assistance products. It’s a key learning from the crisis. Program applications should be no more than two pages.”

In the end, partnerships such as the one between the NMSA and HOPE NOW will be crucial to helping homeowners affected by natural disasters to recover. However, there is still much more to be done. “The NMSA continues to advocate for standardized definitions and practices with respect to vacant and abandoned properties,” said Barbone. “We strongly believe standardization is in the best interest of all parties associated with housing, particularly homeowners and communities who suffer the effects of blight that result from a lack of such standards. Also, the lack of standards was of particular concern in the wake of Harvey where the risk of servicers being unable to remediate damage to flooded properties abandoned by uninsured homeowners increased significantly.”

“We have to focus more on assisting FHA borrowers with government-insured mortgages,” said Selk. “These borrowers have narrow margins for creative solutions, so we have to commit to good education, consistent messaging, and continuing the importance of streamlined solutions. The FHA families are also predetermined to have fewer resources, so we need to be cognizant of their status and limitations. Last year, we worked on a project focused on simplified language and paperwork. The industry collaborations and partnership have produced some helpful documentation.”

“The most important thing we can do is learn from the last ten years and improve accordingly,” Selk said.


Editor’s note: The Five Star Institute is the parent company of the National Mortgage Servicing Association and DS News.



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.