City versus banks on foreclosed homes in Richmond, Calif.
Thursday, September 8th, 2011
Photo by William Harless
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin talks about blight at the Refund & Rebuild Richmond community meeting. Police Chief Chris Magnus and Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles are on the right.
Foreclosure affects not only unfortunate homeowners but whole communities. One study found that when an area's foreclosure rate increases by just 1 percent, violent crime rises more than 2 percent. In an effort to curb the effects of blight caused by foreclosure, the City of Richmond instituted an ordinance imposing a $1,000 per day fine for bank-owned vacant properties with code violations. As William Harless of the Bay Citizen writes, city leaders found enforcing the code easier said than done.
Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Police Chief Chris Magnus pledged Tuesday to crack down on any banks that are neglecting foreclosed properties in the city. And they said they’ll push harder to enforce a city ordinance that fines banks $1,000 a day for vacant properties with code violations.
At a meeting at the Nevin Community Center, Magnus said empty, foreclosed houses have become havens for crime and that the banks and mortgage companies that own them are deliberately obscuring their ownership, avoiding penalties that way.
“Thirty-two years ago, when I got into policing as a young man, I knew I was going to be dealing with certain members of the community that would be involved in robbing banks — what I did not plan on was having to deal with certain banks that would be robbing members of the community,” Magnus said.
Magnus said it took months to identify the owner of a blighted home in his own neighborhood. The property holder turned out to be Deutsche Bank, and Magnus said the city may now be able to fine the bank under the Foreclosure Fine Ordinance, which the Richmond City Council passed in 2008.
The law brought in about $780,000 for the city last fiscal year, according to Magnus, who said most of this penalty money derived from houses in wealthier neighborhoods of the city. He said banks typically try to conceal their ownership in less-affluent neighborhoods, often by leaving property titles in the foreclosed owners’ names as long as possible.