The city will start enforcing a new law today requiring those who want to foreclose on properties, primarily banks, to post $10,000 bonds on each structure in an effort to make those lending institutions more accountable.
Local banks are supportive of the law, Mayor Charles Sammarone said.
“We hope to get those out-of-town banks to cooperate,” he said. “If you don’t follow the law, we will take you to court. We’d like for them to cooperate. We’re not attacking any banks. We may down the road if we don’t get compliance.”
The legislation is a result of a Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative campaign, and the bond can be used against mowing, boarding and demolition costs the city incurs, said Gary Davenport, organizing fellow for the agency.
The Youngstown legislation is based on laws in Springfield, Mass., and Canton, though the latter city doesn’t enforce it, Davenport said.
“This will keep banks accountable and help reduce blight in the city,” he said.
Letters to banks that have foreclosed on about 300 houses in the city recently were sent regarding the $10,000 bonds, said Maureen O’Neil, the city’s neighborhood- improvement coordinator.
The city is working to determine how many houses in the city are in foreclosure. Between January 2004 and last month, 5,186 houses in Youngstown were in foreclosure, according to MVOC statistics.
One recurring problem is that banks send letters to homeowners stating the lending institutions are going to foreclose, and after starting the proceedings, they drop it because the house isn’t worth their trouble, Davenport and O’Neil said.
But plenty of people leave their homes after getting the letter, not knowing the bank decided not to foreclose, they said. The property is left unattended and vacant, leading to vandalism and oftentimes major deterioration, they said.
Anyone going through a foreclosure should stay in the home until the matter is resolved, O’Neil said. An owner isn’t required to move until a transfer takes place, she said.
There are others, such as Claudia Sturtz who lives on South Hazelwood Avenue, who struggled with the bank to reduce her monthly mortgage payment after losing her job.
Sturtz, who’s lived in her West Side home for 19 years, said it took her nearly three years of frustration and problems before her monthly mortgage payment was reduced from $440 to $287, not including taxes and insurance.
She owes $56,000 on a house that she said can’t sell for $25,000, and the bank refused to lower her 6.8 percent interest rate. A house across the street recently sold for $6,000, Sturtz said.
If she makes timely payments for three years, she said the bank will lower her mortgage to $42,000.
“The only conclusion one can draw from all this is that clearly the banks want to put as many obstacles in one’s way hoping one gives up and abandons the property,” she said. “I fail to understand what they gain from this except the destruction of our cities must, in some way, benefit them.”
Sammarone said, “Here’s a lady making payments. We’ve got an issue, and we’re resolving this.”