Action Now continued its aggressive pursuit for banks to maintain foreclosed properties Tuesday morning, when they protested outside Fannie Mae’s regional headquarters and demanded a meeting with Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) Director Edward DeMarco.
Last week, FHFA filed a lawsuit to exempt Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from Chicago’s Vacant Property Ordinance, which requires that banks clean up and secure the properties banks own due to foreclosure.
Their lawsuit shows that they are not interested in protecting vacant homes and are also trying to stop any community that is trying to take care of their own neighborhoods,” said Action Now member Gloria Warner. “It is shameful that the FHFA is wasting taxpayer dollars on a federal lawsuit that is trying to make neighborhoods worse. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac must be held responsible for their bad loans that turned into foreclosures and that are now vacant properties.”
The group claims vacant properties and homes often become havens for garbage, graffiti, as well as drug and gang activity. Outside of the headquarters, Warner spoke of a home burglary that resulted in valuables taken from her residence and stored in a nearby vacant home.
According to the group, the two mortgage giants own nearly 260,000 properties within Chicago alone. This does not include properties in suburban Cook County, which recently passed their own version of the vacant property maintenance ordinance. The county ordinance requires a property mortgagee to register the vacancy on a countywide registry costing $250, while the city fee runs $500. Both ordinances set up fines above the registry costs if banks are unable to maintain or secure the properties.
"When 75 percent of the mortgages in Cook County are owned by FHFA, allowing them to ignore their responsibilities to their own assets or our communities is impossible and a long-term disaster," said Cook County Commissioner Bridget Gainer last week at a Cook County Board meeting. Gainer also notes that nearly 10 percent of all residential properties in the county sit vacant.
For more than a year Action Now advocates have spent their efforts to secure the ordinances and place pressure on banks to take care of the properties. Neighborhoods on the South and West Sides, where Action Now mostly works, are particularly affected by the foreclosure crisis. The group took pictures to present to FHFA of a Fannie Mae owned property located at 1643 S. Homan showing trash and an unsecured lot.
A few members of the organization entered the Fannie Mae offices asking to speak with DeMarco and deliver their letter demanding FHFA end their lawsuit against the city.
“Wasting taxpayer dollars on a federal lawsuit that aims to make neighborhoods worse is not in the country’s best interest. We demand that the FHFA immediately drop the lawsuit against the City of Chicago and start maintaining all of their vacant homes to our standards, or keep people in the homes by proposing principal write-down to market levels,” reads the letter.
While the letter was accepted by a staff member, advocates were unable to speak with anyone of importance. Charles Brown, an Action Now member, said they have made multiple attempts to set up a meeting to discuss the ordinance to no avail.
“They’re making a slum out of our city,” said Brown. “Because banks like Fannie Mae won’t take care of their vacant homes, a city like Cleveland is tearing down homes.”
Here's more from Brown and the other protesters:
In recent months the Ohio city started an effort to boost housing prices by leveling degrading vacant homes. Home values plummeted with the fall of the economy and families losing their houses due to foreclosure have left cities strapped for cash with less property tax money coming into city coffers. Next year the county encompassing the City of Cleveland will begin reappraising more than a third of the homes, undoubtedly at a much lower value than their last full appraisal in 2006.
The Chicago Tribune reported last week on the lawsuit that FHFA believes the ordinance intrudes on the agency’s role as the regulator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. FHFA believes the city is not in a position of power to enforce guidelines on how the mortgage companies care for the properties.
FHFA and Fannie Mae did not return phone calls for this story.