Banks neglect home maintenance in minority neighborhoods, group says

Banks that own properties in Atlanta’s black and Latino areas don’t take care of them as well as the housing they own in other neighborhoods, a report charges today.

The National Fair Housing Alliance investigated Atlanta and 29 other metro areas and found evidence of discrimination in treatment of the properties that these banks – as well as those owned by Fannie Mae – did not “secure the doors and windows, mow lawns, fix gutters and downspouts, remove trash, and provide other maintenance” in minority areas.

After examining more than 2,400 foreclosed homes nationwide — including 65 in largely African-American neighborhoods in southwest Atlanta — the group concluded that those properties were about twice as likely to be poorly maintained as bank-owned houses in mostly white neighborhoods. The markers of neglect included overgrown and trash-strewn lots, and no evidence of “for sale” signs or other efforts to sell the vacant properties.

The selective maintenance in some neighborhoods and neglect in others violates federal fair housing laws, the group said.

“The banks and property preservation companies are under contract to maintain these homes. They are supposed to get the best price when selling a foreclosed home,” said the NFHA. “Banks fulfill these obligations in predominantly white neighborhoods but overwhelmingly fail to perform these simple routine maintenance chores in middle and working class African-American and Latino neighborhoods.”

A Fannie Mae spokesman said the mortgage financing agency monitors its home maintenance contractors to make sure they are meeting its guidelines. “We do site inspections across the country,” said Andrew Wilson, with Fannie Mae. “We’re constantly working with them.”

The NFHA’s findings mirror problems The Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported in stories documenting the blight that has hit some southwest Atlanta neighborhoods in the wake of the housing market’s collapse in 2007. In areas where private equity firms and other investors scooped up many foreclosed homes, neighborhoods have struggled with streets full of vacant homes that draw thieves, squatters, prostitutes and drug dealers.

The NFHA said big investors have spent more than $17 billion in recent years buying up thousands of foreclosed houses in Atlanta, Miami, Phoenix and other cities, often in neighborhoods with high concentrations of African-Americans or other ethnic minorities. The concentrated buying at low auction prices has driven down property values in many of the neighborhoods and increased the odds that properties will be abandoned or allowed to deteriorate, the group said.

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