Grant Deming's Forest Hill residents group targets foreclosure accountability

Attending the meeting were (from left) Fran Mentch, Cheryl Stephens, Micah Kirman, Will Dugar, Judith VanKleef, Diana Woods, Carl Goldstein, Judi Miles, Susan Miller, Carla Rautenberg and Jeff Coryell. [photo by Mike Gaynier]

Cleveland Heights is projected to end 2013 with under 300 foreclosure filings this year, which is a substantial reduction from the past six year average of almost 500 per year, according to a recent report by the Thriving Communities Institute. That is the good news. The not-so-good news is that 300 foreclosures this year is still twice what our community averaged in 1995.

Foreclosure usually leads to vacancy, and far too often, vacancy leads to blight, which devalues our homes and threatens the safety and stability of our neighborhoods. A group of concerned residents from Grant Deming’s Forest Hill neighborhood, along with supporters from nearby neighborhoods, have stepped forward and embraced a strategy being used in other communities battling this problem, called a foreclosure bond.

A foreclosure bond is a preventative measure to hold banks and property title holders responsible for the condition and care of their foreclosed properties. The bond works when a plaintiff files a foreclosure on a vacant property, or when a property in foreclosure becomes vacant. 

The first foreclosure bond legislation in the nation was enacted in 2001 by Springfield, Mass., in response to growing numbers of foreclosures there. It survived a legal challenge by six banks when on July 3, 2012, U.S. District Judge Michael Ponsor ruled that the ordinance did not violate any state law or the US Constitution, according to Businessweek.com.

Youngstown, Ohio enacted legislation requiring foreclosure bonds early this year. The Youngstown ordinance requires a $10,000 cash bond to ensure that community tax dollars are not spent to correct bank generated blight. Since it was enacted, Youngstown reports 82 percent of banks filing foreclosures have paid the bond. 

According to Vindy.com of Youngstown, “the reasoning behind the bond is sound. Foreclosures wield devastating and costly impacts on communities large and small. One foreclosure can ring up as much as $34,000 in local government agency bills, according to a joint congressional economics committee report last year. Trash removal, unpaid utilities, sheriff and police costs, inspections and potentially even demolition of the property all contribute to that cost. . . . The law is intentionally punitive toward . . . negligent lenders who fail to maintain, sell or clear properties after bankruptcy actions. . . . ”   

Foreclosure bonds additionally provide incentive for bank or property title holders to reconsider foreclosure and to work with homeowners to keep them in their homes. Recently, City Council in Lynn, Mass., near Boston, unanimously passed foreclosure bond legislation that additionally requires banks to allow foreclosed homeowners to become renters of their home at reasonable market rates, until a new owner is found. This keeps the property occupied and maintained, which is beneficial for families, communities and neighborhoods.

And, according to the Business Journal of Youngstown, Local banks….support the effort, noting that it's beneficial to the entire community when the neighborhoods are stronger and have stable property values.” Only $200 is deducted by Youngstown for administrative cost, and the balance of the bond is refunded, less any charges for uncompensated maintenance done by the city due to neglect of the property by the bank, following responsible transfer of the property.

After watching Youngstown’s very positive experience with this new ordinance, and meeting with representatives from neighborhood groups in Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, the Grant Deming’s Forest Hill residents and their supporters decided it was time to promote similar legislation in Cleveland Heights. All city council candidates were provided information on Youngstown’s ordinance and invited to participate in a foreclosure bond discussion at the Community Center on Oct. 9. Council Member Cheryl Stephens, running for re-election, along with candidates Jeff Coryell and Fran Mentch joined us for the discussion. Candidate Melissa Yasinow was unable to attend, and has previously indicated she supports City Council reviewing the applicability of foreclosure bonds in Cleveland Heights. Council Member Jason Stein, Council Member Janine Boyd and candidate Keba Sylla were unable to attend.

Residents in attendance (Will Dugar, Mike Gaynier, Carl Goldstein, Charles Kelly, Micah Kirman, Susan Miller, Judi Miles, Carla Rautenberg, Judith VanKleef and Diana Woods) shared their personal concerns and experiences with vacant and foreclosed properties, and expressed support for enacting foreclosure bond legislation Cleveland Heights. Gaynier, Goldstein, Kelly and Woods are on the Board of Directors of the Home Repair Resource Center of Cleveland Heights, which for 41 years has been empowering homeowners to maintain their homes for sustainable and diverse communities.

Council Member Stephens outlined current practices in Cleveland Heights for managing foreclosed and vacant properties, describing the process as primarily, “complaint driven.” Following discussion about the need for this kind of legislation in Cleveland Heights, she encouraged us to bring the matter to council and “work collaboratively to identify appropriate components of the law that may be beneficial in our community.”

Candidate Fran Mentch asked “if we are solving a problem, or just adding another layer of regulation that isn’t necessary? Foreclosures are declining, and not every house in Cleveland Heights is in jeopardy.” She stated, “there are always unintended consequences to such actions, and the money for the bond has to come from somewhere. I wouldn’t want to . . . inadvertently discourage anyone from moving to Cleveland Heights."

Candidate Jeff Coryell expressed support for the legislation, and said “though our city is very different from Youngstown, this legislation is well focused on preventing bank-generated blight, aids neighborhood stability and would be beneficial for Cleveland Heights homeowners. I would like to see Cleveland Heights take a leadership role in Cuyahoga County enacting this legislation. Responsible banks have no reason to oppose foreclosure bonds.”

Following the meeting, our group agreed to prepare a presentation for city council, with a three-to-six month target date for enacting foreclosure bond legislation in Cleveland Heights. For more information, e-mail Mike Gaynier at mjgaynier@creativechange.biz.

Mike Gaynier

Mike Gaynier, a resident of Cleveland Heights, is a leadership consultant, community activist, HRRC board member, and a Red Cross Disaster Action team leader. Micah Kirman and Carla Rautenberg also contributed to this article.

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Volume 6, Issue 11, Posted 11:23 AM, 10.22.2013