By Sophia Solis
Cronkite News Service
Wed Sep 25, 2013 6:54 PM
Bank of America Corp. keeps foreclosed houses in Tucson’s minority neighborhoods in poorer condition than foreclosures in predominantly White areas, a national advocacy group said Wednesday.
The Washington, D.C.-based National Fair Housing Alliance made that claim in expanding a complaint it filed last year with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The initial complaint alleged unequal treatment of foreclosed houses in Phoenix and 12 other metropolitan areas. The amended complaint adds Tucson; Memphis, Tenn.; Denver; Las Vegas and Philadelphia.
Janell Byrd-Chichester, an attorney representing the group and its member agencies, said failing to maintain foreclosed houses can violate the federal Fair Housing Act by reinforcing differences in property values between predominantly White and minority neighborhoods.
“It undermines the value of their homes and reinforces negative stereotypes on the basis of race,” she said in a conference call.
The group said it examined 18 Bank of America foreclosures in Tucson, 15 of them in predominantly Latino neighborhood and three in predominantly White neighborhoods.
Among its allegations:
Eight of the houses in predominantly Latino neighborhoods had broken doors or locks and six had holes in the structure, while none of the three houses in predominantly White neighborhoods had those problems.
Seven of the houses in predominantly Latino neighborhoods had dead grass on more than 50 percent of their lawns vs.one of the three houses in predominantly White neighborhoods.
Eight of the houses in predominantly Latino neighborhoods had “no trespassing” or warning signs vs. one of the three houses in predominantly White neighborhoods.
Fourteen of the houses in predominantly Latino neighborhoods lacked “for sale” signs vs. one of the three in predominantly White neighborhoods.
The group contends that signage discourages break-ins and alerts potential buyers that a foreclosed house is on the market.
Shanna Smith, president of the National Fair Housing Alliance, said that maintaining a foreclosed house in good condition is in the interest of the entire neighborhood, not just for the bank interested in selling the house.
“Homes that are not taken care of can create a severe health hazard for an entire community,” she said.
Smith said HUD is still investigating the complaint it filed last year. A message left with the agency’s Phoenix field office wasn’t returned by late Wednesday afternoon.
Jumana Bauwens, a Bank of America spokeswoman, e-mailed a statement denying the group’s claims of discrimination.
“Bank of America applies uniform practices to the management and marketing of vacant bank-owned properties across the U.S., regardless of their location,” the statement said.