Housing groups: Bank neglects foreclosed homes in minority areas

Updated 10/23/2012 5:26 PM

A coalition of housing groups announced Tuesday new information in a discrimination complaint against Bank of America.

The Washington D.C.-based National Fair Housing Alliance filed an initial complaint Sept. 25 alleging Bank of America fails to maintain and market foreclosed properties in its possession in communities of color, a violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act. Tuesday's announcement was the second such addition of data, now including information about disparities in African American and Latino neighborhoods in the Chicago, Milwaukee and Indianapolis metropolitan areas, including comparisons found in the Northwest suburbs.

HOPE Fair Housing Center in Wheaton took the lead on the Chicago area research, analyzing the condition of real estate owned, or foreclosed, properties in the region. Anne Houghtaling, executive director of HOPE Fair Housing Center, said the foreclosed properties in communities of color were 4.7 times as likely to have broken doors and locks, almost twice as likely to have dead grass on more than 50 percent of the property and 12 times as likely to have damaged windows.

"When we go out, these homes are an eyesore in the neighborhood," Houghtaling said. "You look at the other houses and the other houses are beautiful."

The local research showed homes in predominantly white neighborhoods of Aurora and Hanover Park to be far better maintained than predominantly Latino or African American neighborhoods in Aurora and Elgin, according to Houghtaling.

Besides maintenance standards, the complaint alleges Bank of America consistently fails to post "for sale" signs outside foreclosed homes in communities of color, increasing the likelihood they would be sold to investors rather than families planning to live in the homes.

Rick Simon, a media relations representative in Bank of America's home loans division, said the company strongly denies the allegations and stands behind its property maintenance and marketing practices.

"Bank of America is committed to stabilizing and revitalizing communities that have been impacted by the economic downturn, foreclosures and property abandonment," Simon said.

Peter Romer-Friedman, an attorney working on the case, said the actions of Bank of America have a "huge and harmful impact on communities of color" as well as the regional market.

The National Fair Housing Alliance, of which HOPE is a member, started the analysis in 2009. Complaints against Wells Fargo and US Bank were filed in April 2012 and, with the Bank of America complaint, use data from cities nationwide, including Oakland, Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, Dayton and Grand Rapids.

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