Trying to Slow the Foreclosures

As one department deals with blighted homes, others attempt to get ahead of the crisis.

The Oakland Building Department’s response to blight is an effort to
deal with foreclosures once they happen. At the forefront of the
problem, the Oakland city attorney’s office is working to establish
tangible financial consequences for lenders who foreclose and then
evict their tenants. But in spite of the Oakland city ordinance that
proclaims foreclosure an unjust cause for eviction, the numbers of
foreclosures keep rising.

According to Alex Nguyen, director of the city attorney’s
Neighborhood Law Corps, his department is interested in forcing lenders
to immediately assume the financial burden of the maintenance of
foreclosed homes — a step that would make foreclosures less
economically viable to the new property-owning banks.

In Richmond, meanwhile, the city council just enacted legislation to
make tenant eviction due to foreclosure illegal. Los Angeles is the
only other California city with legislation that exclusively combats
foreclosure eviction. Members of community groups that helped advocate
for Richmond’s new law said that while this legislation was a good
start, successful implementation would require outreach efforts so that
tenants are aware that they have this new protection.

Meanwhile, Oakland’s Housing and Community Development Department is
working to buy back foreclosed properties and convert them into
affordable housing units. According to Acting Director Michele Byrd,
the city council awarded $8.2 million in federal funds to two nonprofit
groups working together to rehab communities, the Urban Strategies
Council and the Oakland Community Land Trust. This money will be used
in a land trade effort, in which roughly 200 foreclosed properties in
East and West Oakland will be bought back by these organizations, with
the city’s financial support, and ultimately resold at affordable
prices. With the foreclosures continuing, however, Byrd said, “It is
really bringing down the value for home-owners and for neighborhoods.
And it makes it really difficult to redevelop communities in terms of
housing and commercial development.” She hopes these recently acquired
funds will be the start of a positive change for Oakland flatlands
housing.

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