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Published: 11/15/2013 - Updated: 5 months ago

Bank accused of fostering urban blight

Housing alliance says lender ignores foreclosed properties

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Bank of America is accused of failing to maintain foreclosed homes it owns in minority neighborhoods in Toledo, a charge the bank denies, saying it markets its properties regardless of location. Bank of America is accused of failing to maintain foreclosed homes it owns in minority neighborhoods in Toledo, a charge the bank denies, saying it markets its properties regardless of location.
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The National Fair Housing Alliance on Thursday accused Bank of America of failing to maintain or market foreclosed homes it owns in minority neighborhoods in Toledo, adding the charge to an earlier complaint the organization filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The NFHA first filed a complaint against Bank of America in September, 2012, alleging the Charlotte bank had neglected homes in many working-class minority neighborhoods nationwide, violating the Fair Housing Act.

With Thursday’s announcement, the complaint now includes 20 metro areas.

A bank spokesman said the National Fair Housing Alliance’s claims are unfounded and that it treats its bank-owned properties the same, regardless of location.

In Toledo, fair housing officials visited 22 properties they said were owned by Bank of America. Eight were in predominantly black neighborhoods. Fourteen were in predominantly white neighborhoods.

NFHA said the properties in the predominantly black neighborhoods were four and a half times more likely to have substantial trash on the lot. The organization said two of the eight properties had unsecured, broken, or boarded doors. None of the 14 properties in a white neighborhood had that problem, officials said.

“If there’s trash all over and the doors are boarded up, people aren’t interested. It creates a sigma for those neighborhoods,” said Michael Marsh, president and CEO of Toledo Fair Housing Center.

In its investigation, the NFHA said officials looked for maintenance deficiencies such as broken windows, missing gutters, and overgrown lawns. The organization also noted whether properties had a visible “for sale” sign and how it was being marketed.

Officials from NFHA said their findings show continued and significant racial disparity.

“These practices tend to segregate, they tend to exacerbate the wealth gap between people on a basis of race and national origin, and they feed into stereotypes about minority communities,” said Janell Byrd-Chichester, lead counsel for the NFHA.

The group declined to share the addresses of the properties in Toledo, saying they were part of its ongoing investigation.

Mr. Marsh did not have a list of addresses either. However, he said the homes are not in areas where blighted properties are the norm.

“We’re not looking at the slums,” he said. “We’re looking at working-class neighborhoods.”

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) briefly joined a conference call outlining the allegations, saying she believes that the complaint can help bring justice to Toledo neighborhoods.

“We have plenty of evidence in our area that Bank of America is not maintaining properties it owns in the area, and certainly in neighborhoods of color.”

Jumana Bauwens, a bank spokesman, disputed the claims from NFHA.

“Bank of America applies the same uniform practices to the management and marketing of bank-owned properties regardless of the location,” she said.

Ms. Bauwens also said the bank currently holds 17 properties in Toledo. She said just four are currently on the market. Eight are in escrow, while five are in premarketing.

She also said NFHA is including homes in Toledo and other cities that Bank of America is no longer responsible for.

“We’ve had discussions with [NFHA] and it obviously came to an impasse and we couldn’t agree,” she said. “You have to look at what Wells Fargo gave them to understand where this is going.”

Earlier this year, Wells Fargo agreed to pay $42 million to settle a similar claim from the NFHA, though the bank did not admit to discrimination or any wrongdoing.

Of that, Toledo got $1.4 million for neighborhood stabilization work.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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