Community activists in several US cities are calling for changes in housing policies. They point to a shortage of affordable housing in the midst of a surplus of vacant, bank-foreclosed properties. One of the cities where anti-poverty activists point to what they see as a housing crisis is Springfield Massachusetts.
Springfield was one of the hardest hit cities in Massachusetts by the wave of foreclosures that followed the burst of the housing bubble and the onset of the great recession in 2008. Although statistics point to a recovery with higher home sales and higher sale prices last year, activists like Malcolm Chu say it’s a mirage. He said homes are being sold to investors, who are keeping the properties vacant while waiting to maximize profits.
To highlight the problem in Springfield, Chu and other members of Springfield No One Leaves, an organization that stages protests at foreclosure auctions, pointed at a vacant home at 115 Central Street. The two- story wood frame house was purchased in 2003 for $58,000 and sold two years later for $155,000. The home went into foreclosure in 2008 and was eventually sold, for $6,000, to an out of state real estate company. The house remains vacant.
The activists want mortgage holders, especially the government backed Fannie Mae, to renegotiate the loan principle with homeowners who are underwater and unable to make current payments. Jeff Solivan of Springfield said he his fighting with Fannie Mae to try to save his home. It went into foreclosure when he lost his job.
Michaelann Bewsee, director of Arise for Social Justice, said housing is the number one need of people who seek help at the anti-poverty organization. She said the federal government should spend more money to build affordable housing and the city of Springfield should be more creative in tackling local housing issues.
Springfield City Councilor Timothy Allen says he’s willing to look at any ideas that would help create more affordable housing
City councilors tonight will consider changing the foreclosure ordinance to settle a lawsuit by several banks. The change would exempt banks from having to post a $10,000 bond to secure and maintain foreclosed vacant property, if other conditions are met, including hiring a local property manager. A mediation program to help people at risk of losing their homes to foreclosure would be implemented. City Council Vice President Bud Williams said implementation of the ordinance has been blocked since it was passed almost two years ago.
Community activists oppose the changes, which they call loopholes to benefit the banks.