‘Zombies 2.0’: Attorney General James announces $9 Million in Grants for Communities Dealing with Vacant & Abandoned Properties

Industry Alert
January 28, 2019

Source: Office of NY Attorney General Letitia James

SYRACUSE – Attorney General Letitia James today announced “Zombies 2.0,” the expansion of a grant initiative to address the growing statewide issue of “zombie homes”– vacant and abandoned homes that are not maintained during a prolonged foreclosure proceeding.  

“Zombies 2.0” will provide up to $9 million in grants to municipalities across the state to address housing vacancy and blight. The grants will provide funds to municipalities to increase housing code enforcement, track and monitor vacant properties, and bolster legal enforcement capacity to ensure banks and mortgage companies comply with local and state law.  

“Far too many communities throughout New York continue to be blighted by zombie homes,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “These abandoned houses significantly decrease property values and threaten the safety of surrounding neighborhoods. Zombies 2.0 will be a key resource for cities and town across the state to combat this nuisance, and make communities whole.” 

These grants are a continuation of the 2016 Zombie Remediation and Prevention Initiative created by the Office of the New York Attorney General, which provided nearly $13 million in grants to 76 New York municipalities. This year’s grant will allow previous recipients to continue their previous work, or will give first-time grantees the opportunity to secure funding to support their zombie and vacant property efforts. 

Through the grants provided by the Zombie Remediation and Prevention Initiative, municipalities:  

•Improved data collection and analysis to track vacant and abandoned properties; 

•Invested in new technology to better collect and analyze data to address the collective impact of vacant properties on neighborhoods; 

•Created “Zombie Coordinators” and Taskforces to coordinate code enforcement activities and resources; 

•Boosted capacity of code enforcement and legal departments to enforce relevant laws to hold lienholders accountable or seek remedies to improve housing quality; and, 

•Connected at-risk homeowners to foreclosure prevention resources.  

The “Zombies 2.0” funding is a result of the Office of the New York Attorney General’s $500 Million Settlement with the Royal Bank of Scotland in 2018 over the bank’s deceptive practices and misrepresentations to investors in connection with the packaging, marketing, sale, and issuance of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) leading up to the financial crisis. The settlement marks a total of $22 Million investments in zombie grants funded by settlements from banks.  

“Zombie properties leave an undue burden on the communities that surround them,” said Assemblymember Pamela Hunter. “Neglected properties that fall into disrepair because of absentee banks attract crime and lower the property values of surrounding homes. The program announced today will give municipalities and homeowners the resources they need to mitigate blight and put communities back on track. 

“I thank Attorney General James for continuing to help our municipalities battle the scourge of “zombie” properties,” said Assemblymember Bill Magnarelli. “Even though it has been a decade since the “mortgage foreclosure crisis”, our Upstate municipalities continue to deal with abandoned and blighted properties that damage neighborhoods.  These new funds made available by the Attorney General will allow our cities, towns and villages to take action on these properties and return them to productive use.”

“Communities all across New York State are affected by abandoned homes and zombie properties,” said Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin. “I thank the Attorney General’s Office for their support as we continue to move forward we need to be aggressive in bringing properties that are not in compliance so that they are no longer a drain in their communities.”  

“Municipalities all over the state are reducing their number of vacant homes, energizing their local economies and improving their long-term quality of life,” said Helene Caloir, director of LISC’s New York Stabilization Fund, which also administered the state’s first round of zombie grants. “One vacant house gets spruced up and soon there are prospective purchasers; surrounding neighbors start investing more in their homes as nearby properties improve; and the entire community is lifted. House by house, block by block, neighborhoods are on the upswing.” 

“Enterprise is pleased to provide resources to continue the successful work LISC and the OAG have undertaken to address “zombie” properties in communities throughout New York State,” said Judi Kende, vice president and New York market leader, Enterprise Community Partners. “Empowering municipal leaders to alleviate blight will create economic opportunity and turn vacant and abandoned properties into valuable assets for communities still recovering from the foreclosure crisis.” 

The Zombie Remediation and Prevention Initiative coincided with the passage of the New York State Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act of 2016 (the “Zombie Law”) which requires banks and other mortgagees to externally maintain vacant one-to-four family houses during the foreclosure process or face a potential penalty of up to $500 per day per property. Zombie grantees used funds to bolster legal efforts to enforce the Zombie Law by issuing citations to noncompliant mortgagees or in some cases taking mortgagees to court to enforce the law. 

Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) is managing Zombies 2.0 with funds administered by Enterprise Community Partners. LISC will issue a Request for Applications by invitation to municipalities based on the number of abandoned residential properties within the municipality; the proportion of such properties compared to the overall number of residential properties; and its level of general economic distress. All invitees must have populations of at least 5,000 residents and at least 100 vacant and abandoned properties, or multiple municipalities can apply jointly to equal or exceed the population and vacant residential properties minimums. 

Applications are due Friday, March 8, 2019. Awards are expected to be announced April 12, 2019. 

LISC expects to award grants in amounts ranging from $50,000 to $500,000 based on the scale and severity of their “zombie” and other vacant one-to-four family house problems. 

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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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VP, Finance

Joe Iafigliola

Joe Iafigliola is the vice president of finance for Safeguard. Joe leads the accounting and information security departments, and is a key leader in the management of SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets. He also leads the service supply chain including vendor sourcing, field quality control, and delivery, in addition to the quality assurance function for the company.

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.