April 11, 2012; Source: San Francisco Chronicle

The latest saga in this nation’s long nightmare of bank foreclosures is the litigation filed by the nonprofit National Fair Housing Alliance charging that Wells Fargo maintained foreclosed homes in white neighborhoods much better than in minority neighborhoods. The case is critically important to the prospects of neighborhood renewal in foreclosure-devastated neighborhoods.

The Alliance conducted a study of foreclosed homes in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Dayton, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Oakland, Philadelphia, and Washington and concluded that bank-owned homes in white communities “were 33 percent more likely to be marketed with a professional ‘For Sale’ sign than homes in black or Latino communities.” The Fair Housing Alliance was joined by four of its members, Housing Opportunities Project for Excellence Inc., Metro Fair Housing Services, the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, and the North Texas Fair Housing Center. The combined group filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development alleging that what it sees as a pattern of neglect puts Wells in violation of the Fair Housing Act.

Foreclosed homes that are allowed to deteriorate create several impacts. They become sources of blight and instability in already poor neighborhoods. Because of the lack of maintenance and upkeep, they become more costly for community-based nonprofits to acquire and rehabilitate. And because they become run down, they might be swept up in purchases by speculators whose only interest is to milk whatever they can from the properties. –Rick Cohen