Housing discrimination alleged in Tucson foreclosures

2013-09-26T00:00:00Z 2014-07-03T12:30:34Z Housing discrimination alleged in Tucson foreclosuresBy Emily Bregel Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Foreclosed properties in Hispanic neighborhoods in Tucson are among hundreds nationwide that have been subject to a “striking pattern” of housing discrimination by Bank of America, according to a complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The National Fair Housing Alliance, a nonprofit agency dedicated to ending housing discrimination, has added properties in Tucson and four other cities to its amended complaint filed against Bank of America.

The fair-housing group accuses the bank of discriminatory maintenance and marketing practices for 621 properties in 18 metro areas across the U.S. The allegations follow the housing group’s investigation into the status of the bank’s real estate owned, or foreclosed, properties in minority and white neighborhoods.

Bank of America has denied the accusations.

The complaint alleges “stark racial disparities” in the bank’s maintenance of foreclosed properties, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. That means more black and Hispanic communities are littered with vacant, deteriorating homes that are less likely to have visible “for sale” signs on display, said Shanna Smith, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance.

The findings come as no surprise to Evelia Martinez, project manager of Don’t Borrow Trouble Pima County, a program of the Southwest Fair Housing Council.

“None of it surprises me, and I would venture to say this is probably something that is the rule and not the exception,” she said. “Clearly there is a pattern, and it is systemic. It cuts across all financial institutions.”

In Tucson, the group investigated 18 foreclosed homes owned by Bank of America. Fifteen were located in predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods and three in predominantly white communities. The local investigation found:

93 percent of the foreclosed properties inspected in Hispanic neighborhoods did not have a “for sale” sign on display, compared to one of the three the properties in white neighborhoods without a “for sale” sign.

73 percent of the properties in Hispanic neighborhoods had trespassing or warning signs posted, compared with one of the three homes in white neighborhoods.

More than half of the properties in Hispanic neighborhoods had broken doors or locks, while none of the foreclosures in white neighborhoods did.

40 percent of the properties in Hispanic neighborhoods had holes in the structure, while none in white neighborhoods did.

Martinez said this kind of disparity is evident when comparing foreclosures in Midvale Park and to those in Rita Ranch.

“You see the broken windows, the boarded-up windows. You see the dead grass, the chipping paint, the (broken) mailboxes,” she said. “Then you go drive at Rita Ranch and you’re not going to find a house that looks like that.”

Mold, graffiti, damaged roofs, broken gutters, holes in the structure and broken windows were among the maintenance issues identified, and the problems disproportionately affected minority neighborhoods, the complaint said.

In one foreclosed Las Vegas home in a minority neighborhood, housing advocates found a decaying dog carcass in the backyard.

These disparities reinforce negative stereotypes, undermine disproportionately low property values in minority communities and perpetuate residential segregation, Janell Byrd-Chichester, a Washington, D.C., lawyer representing the complainants, said in a Wednesday media conference call.

“This discriminatory treatment results in real harm,” she said. “It exacerbates what we already have as a gross disparity between the wealth of whites and African-Americans and Latinos in this country.”

The National Fair Housing Alliance filed a similar complaint against Wells Fargo in 2012 for housing discrimination and that elicited proactive actions from the lender, while Bank of America has been unresponsive since the initial complaint was filed last year, Smith, of the National Fair Housing Alliance, said in the conference call.

“It’s time for the neighborhood organizations, the cities, the churches, the civil-rights groups to speak out and say: ‘Enough is enough, Bank of America. You need to respect our neighborhoods and take care of these properties,’ ” Smith said.

Contact reporter Emily Bregel at ebregel@azstarnet.com or 807-7774. On Twitter: @EmilyBregel

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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