How to deal with the foreclosure crisis
When Maureen O'Neil became chief code official and neighborhood improvement coordinator in Youngstown a few years ago, she noticed many homes were blighted and in desperate need of repair. She and her staff found that, in many cases, the former owners were behind in their mortgage payments and were evicted by the lenders, who failed to complete the necessary foreclosure forms. These were referred to as “zombie foreclosures.” Thus, the city assumed the vacant parcels were still the property of the former owners. The city had to perform basic maintenance, such as lawn mowing, snow shoveling and minor structural repairs, which on a citywide basis totaled about $100,000 per year, and assume the cost.
As a solution, the city enacted legislation that required lenders, at the moment the house became vacant, or if it was already vacant, to purchase a $10,000 bond. If the lender maintained the property until it was once again inhabited, the city would return the funds. And if the city incurred expenses in maintaining the property until it was re-occupied, the costs would be deducted from the return.
The success of this law encouraged other cities, including Warren and Canton, as well as Poughkeepsie, N.Y., to enact similar laws. It is necessary for citizens of Cleveland Heights to encourage our City Council to enact a similar law. Not only will it cut expenses for the city, but will also encourage lenders to lower their predatory mortgage rates.
Stewart Robinson is a retired math professor who taught at Cleveland State University and Case Western Reserve University.