Wilmington, DE City Leaders Support Land Bank Program

Updated 4/30/15: On April 27, The News Journal published an article titled Bill targets Wilmington’s vacant homes.

Link to article

On March 12, The News Journal released an article titled Wilmington leaders eye new development tool: land bank.

Wilmington leaders eye new development tool: land bank

The 600 block of W. Fifth St. in Wilmington has at least eight vacant homes, some marked by boarded-up doors and windows.

Dilapidated blocks like this one in West Center City are what City Council President Theo Gregory has in mind when he discusses establishing a land bank. The development tool – also in place in cities like Cleveland, Detroit and Philadelphia – is used by municipalities to acquire abandoned and tax-delinquent properties.

Then the properties are either razed or renovated. If they are renovated, the buildings are sold, with profits supporting the land bank.

Gregory and Mayor Dennis P. Williams are among those pushing for state legislation that would allow Delaware cities to create their own land banks. In addition to the legislation, the city would need between $6 million and $10 million to make sure the land bank is effective.

Wilmington had nearly 1,500 abandoned houses as of January, according to the city. Officials say a land bank would make it easier for the city to take control and decide the fates of abandoned or blighted property.

“Having that much surplus blighted property is bringing down the value of the city and making it very difficult for people to redevelop and sell properties,” said Paul Calistro, executive director of the West End Neighborhood House, a community improvement group.

If it comes to fruition, the proposed Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank would be a city-owned entity with the ability to purchase abandoned properties at foreclosure auctions, also known as sheriff’s sales. The land bank also would have the power to negotiate directly with owners for their property and could assume ownership of the roughly 140 empty houses the city already maintains.

Having a land bank in place, experts say, means code-enforcement liens and assorted fines against a property can be kept intact at auction. The higher minimum bid would increase the likelihood for serious private bidders or the city to take control. That, in turn, improves the possibility that the property will be renovated – either by a serious buyer or by the land bank – or demolished, instead of purchased cheaply and left vacant.

For the land bank to become a reality, the state Legislature has to first pass enabling laws, which city leaders hope happens during this session.

There is enough support for the initiative among city leadership that Williams and Gregory, who are often at loggerheads, agree on the matter.

“We do have urban blight. We have vacancies, and we have to get a handle on a specific strategy that’s city-wide,” Gregory said, adding a land bank would allow for a “comprehensive approach” to handling blighted property.

Alexandra Coppadge, a Williams spokeswoman said: “This is providing a coordinated approach to tackling issues of vacancy and blight in the city.”

Deborah Kraak, the president of the Trinity Vicinity Neighborhood Association, located slightly north of the streets Gregory pointed out, also supports the concept of a land bank.

“This way you know where the people are, you can go down to City Hall and say, ‘Look, we have this problem,’ ” Kraak said, adding that a water pipe burst in a forceclosed home in her neighborhood and residents couldn’t find a contact at the bank that owns it to let them know what happened.

Kraak said that if a land bank becomes reality, she hopes there would be steps to allow for neighborhood association input. That would hopefully protect historic homes while also allowing residents to provide input on how properties could be repurposed – as “anything but a parking lot,” she said.

In December, the Center for Community Progress, a national nonprofit that addresses blight and vacancy in cities across the country, produced a report focused on Wilmington. A land bank could benefit the city, but only if it was taken in connection with other steps, it said.

Among the other strategies recommended for Wilmington are a “Blight and Crime Action Team” featuring representation across the city’s departments, ensuring that the minimum bid at sheriff’s sales represents all fees and interests against the property, and possibly investing in a multiyear demolition campaign.

“The creation of a land bank is not the solution to vacant and abandoned properties, but it can be one component part of a solution,” the report said, adding a land bank would be used only to clear out existing vacancies, not prevent more houses from becoming blighted.

The City Council on Thursday approved a $2.125 million budget amendment that includes $325,000 to pay consultants who are writing the state legislation and city code pertaining to land banks.

Fourteen state legislatures have passed laws allowing land banks, and there are 120 programs across the country. One of the newest is in Philadelphia.

“In some places, land banking has been successful; in some places, it has not,” said Wilmington Councilwoman Hanifa Shabazz, who supports the concept. “We have some examples of trial and error to go by, and hopefully we can be successful.”

Across the country, land banks take many different approaches, and it is still unclear which is favored by Wilmington leadership. Furthermore, the state’s potential legislation also could provide clearer parameters for what Wilmington’s organization might look like.

“Land banks are very much creatures of local conditions and local needs, and they need to be tailored very carefully to the local conditions for the places they’re being built,” said John Carpenter, deputy executive director of the Philadelphia Land Bank.

In Syracuse, New York, a city about twice Wilmington’s size, the land bank is partially funded by the state’s mortgage settlements and is used to enforce delinquent taxes by making it easier to foreclose on properties. The Center for Community Progress calls the Greater Syracuse Land Bank “a catch basin for all the property that failed to pay back taxes.”

When the Syracuse land bank started in 2012, leaders planned to foreclose on 4,000 vacant properties, with the expectation that the stricter rules would lead to half of those paying up on taxes and the other half to be sold to the land bank. During the land bank’s first two years, more than $5 million in delinquent taxes above historical level was collected.

As of September, the organization had control of about 356 properties and had sold 52 properties.

City leaders are in a holding pattern until they receive permission from the state, but some state legislators support the idea.

State Rep. Helene Keeley, a south Wilmington Democrat, is planning to be one of the primary sponsors of the land bank ordinance when it is introduced, likely in the coming week or so.

A land bank would help Wilmington update its urban housing stock to meet the needs of the 21st century and present an opportunity for the private and public sectors to forge stronger partnerships, she said.

“I think it’s a good opportunity for banks to come back in and help urban areas that were extremely hard hit by the financial crisis that was caused by subprime lending,” Keeley said. She did not provide specifics about the kind of support banks and other private institutions could provide a land bank.

In addition to the legislation, a land bank effort would also require funding for staff and the efforts of buying, renovating and demolishing homes. A Wilmington land bank, Gregory said, would likely take $6 to $10 million in funding to have any impact. If the city were to step in and purchase, say, all the even-numbered properties on the 600 block of W. Fifth St. at their assessed values, the effort would cost about $500,000.

In most instances, though, the city already has liens against vacant properties. By keeping those liens intact at sheriff’s sales, the city could lower the cash cost to itself or its land bank in trying to take over the property while increasing the cost to other possible buyers.

“It’s going to be a challenge, of course, but we still have to move forward,” Gregory said.

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About Safeguard 
Safeguard Properties is the mortgage field services industry leader, preserving vacant and foreclosed properties across the U.S., Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Guam. Founded in 1990 by Robert Klein and headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, Safeguard provides the highest quality service to our clients by leveraging innovative technologies and proactively developing industry best practices and quality control procedures. Consistent with Safeguard’s values and mission, we are an active supporter of hundreds of charitable efforts across the country. Annually, Safeguard gives back to communities in partnership with our employees, vendors and clients. We also are dedicated to working with community leaders and officials to eliminate blight and stabilize neighborhoods. Safeguard is dedicated to preserving today and protecting tomorrow.  Website: www.safeguardproperties.com.



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.