Locals travel to S.C. to protest predatory land contracts
By Graig Graziosi
A group of 45 activists affiliated with Youngstown neighborhood revitalization groups traveled to this South Carolina city Saturday to confront the leadership of a company dealing in what they say are local predatory land contracts.
The group had ties to Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corp. and the Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods.
It wanted to pressure Alex Szkaradek, CEO of Vision Property Management, and John Buerkert, the chief business development officer, into signing a community agreement that included provisions to protect current renters of Vision properties from eviction and bar Vision from buying other city properties, among other issues.
While not all land contracts are exploitative, many of the contracts linked to Vision Property Management target vulnerable renters, luring them into agreements where they believe they’re renting to own but are never given ownership of their home.
Impacted tenants often report paying mortgages far higher than their houses’ actual value.
According to Ian Beniston, executive director of YNDC who has been sparring with Vision Property for years and participated in the negotiation, the leadership of Vision refused to sign the agreement, prompting a walk out from the Youngstown group.
“They refused to sign anything,” Beniston said. “They laughed at us. We’re going to show them we’re serious, though.”
The bulk of the group sang songs and chanted protest slogans outside the company’s headquarters.
The protest continued from Vision Property Management headquarters to a church where Szkaradek was believed to be a member. Elder Rose Carter, executive director of ACTION, spoke with congregants and arranged a time to talk with their pastor.
“We aren’t here against you or your church,” Carter said, addressing the congregants. “We’d just like to ask your pastor to pray for us and our city.”
The remainder of the group passed out fliers detailing Vision’s leasing practices.
From there, it intended to confront Szkaradek at his home, but the group was unable to do so as he lived on a private road. Instead some passed out fliers at the homes of his neighbors on a public, adjacent street.
The next stop was meant to be a similar storm of fliers in Buerkert’s neighborhood, but time constraints and private-property restraints forced the group to redirect to a local park across the street from Buerkert’s community.
The group unfurled their banners again and chanted in support of ACTION and against Buerkert.
When the chants were finished, the group boarded its bus and departed for Youngstown. The volunteers left Youngstown at 4 a.m. Saturday and were to return early this morning. Carter and Beniston led the group.