Monday, September 26, 2011

Fighting Back Against Discriminatory Maintenance

Post and photos by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

Part 3 of 4 mortgage policy/wonkish posts.

The previous post alluded to possible ways to combat what I will now coin "discriminatory maintenance" of properties in NoMi.  More specifics will be laid out here, both from the National Fair Housing Alliance and their report, and my own ideas at a local level.

Johnny Northside jumped into the fray by recommending that we get these properties taken care of immediately, which is pretty much exactly what the NFHA group recommends when they say...

...that banks and servicers need to familiarize themselves with fair housing laws and treat their properties accordingly.  NFHA has offered trainings to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in this regard.  Locally, we could hold such trainings for the servicers that hold the most foreclosed properties in our community.  Since we hope these banks will be temporary neighbors of ours, I wouldn't expect them to come before neighborhood groups too often.  But having a point person that serves as a community liaison to address concerns couldn't hurt either.

I also heartily agree with NFHA's recommendation that banks and servicers hire real estate agents either from within the community or who at least have experience working in similar communities.  Goodbye Claude Worrell, hello Realtors from the NoMi group.

Brokers should do a Brokers' Pricing Opinion that is more in-depth than a mere drive-by of the house, and take care to advertise unique features on the interior of properties.  The photographs on the MLS and the signage at the house should be relatively identical across neighborhoods' income levels and ethnicity.  The photos at the top of the post are of the interior of 2939 Lyndale Avenue North.  When Byron Anfinson listed this property, my recollection is that there was perhaps one blurry photo of the hardwood floors inside, and that was about it.  Not every home will have standout features like this one, but the ones that do should have them properly advertised.

Regarding property managers, NFHA states that "they do a disservice when they allow REO properties to accumulate unread mail, and fail to mow lawns, clean up trash, secure doors and broken windows, leave signs lying in the yards of properties, and allow vandalism and exterior damage such as chipped and peeling paint, unsecured or missing gutters, or water damage to exist without remediation."  The question remains, if they don't do this where is the recourse?  Locally we could start with the Minneapolis Area Association of Realtors.

NFHA recommends that cases be brought before the Office of the Comptroller of Currency and the Department of Justice, while admitting that cases relating to mortgage/housing and race are sparse and the agencies' response leaves much to be desired.  They seem to place a lot of faith in the newly-formed Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, even though the exact roles of that division have not been entirely fleshed out.

So in this area, I especially recommend that we be proactive in Minneapolis, particularly here in north.  Let's get someone studying this immediately.  CURA seems the obvious choice.  We'll need to confirm that 1) NoMi or at least a part of it is a minority community and 2) that housing is handled differently here than in more affluent, white communities.  I can't imagine either of these things would be hard to validate empirically, but it's a necessary step.  And then we take the top offender(s) and we sue them.  The Housing Preservation Project, which represented Hawthorne in our groundbreaking suit against Citimortgage, would probably be up to the task.  And there are really no shortage of attorneys who would chomp at the bit over this one.  Perhaps even our Attorney General or Commerce Department might be interested in taking on the cause.

While we already have a fee structure for vacant buildings in Minneapolis, NFHA references the city of Oakland, CA.  Foreclosed, vacant buildings are required to register with the city and submit a maintenance plan.  Failure to register, to submit a plan, or to fulfill the terms of the plan can result in fines of $500-$1,000 daily

Once a bank takes the final step of foreclosure, people in NoMi should be able to expect that they will be good--and temporary--neighbors.


  1. That's a great BIG PICTURE view.

    It would be great to compare a few vacant foreclosed houses here in North Minneapolis with a few houses in other parts of Minneapolis, in detail, and name some names when it comes to the banks responsible for this discriminatory maintenance.

    Also, is it possible that the Minneapolis office of Civil Rights would be able to play a role if a complaint were filed, especially a "get the ball rolling" complaint?

  2. I agree that this is a great big picture view. Who do you think should identify the "top offenders"--do you think these findings would emerge from the study or from a separate source?

    Thanks for sharing this strategy!

  3. I think the idea of hiring realtors from the community is EXACTLY what needs to happen. These REO agents do not care about the properties in the same way that a NoMi Realtor would.


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