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Birmingham-based Fair Housing Center joins lawsuit against Bank of America

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Times Staff Report

The Fair Housing Center of Northern Alabama (FHCNA) based in Birmingham has joined the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), 18 fair housing organizations, and two homeowners in Maryland in filing a federal Fair Housing Act lawsuit against Bank of America and Safeguard Properties Management, LLC.

The lawsuit alleges the Bank of America and Safeguard intentionally failed to provide routine exterior maintenance and marketing at Bank of America-owned homes in working- and middle-class African American and Latino neighborhoods in 37 metropolitan areas, while they consistently maintained similar bank-owned homes in comparable white neighborhoods.

The Plaintiffs say that they investigated more than 1,600 Bank of America-owned homes in working and middle-class white, African-American, and Latino neighborhoods. Mrs. Lila Hackett, Executive Director of (FNCNA) stated that over two dozen of the homes investigated we located in greater Birmingham.

The lawsuit alleges that Bank of America-owned homes in predominantly white working and middle-class neighborhoods are far more likely to have the lawns mowed and edged regularly, invasive weeds and vines removed, windows and doors secured or repaired, debris and trash removed, leaves raked, and graffiti erased from the property.

“Bank of America and Safeguard’s deplorable and intentional inaction left innocent homeowners exposed to numerous health hazards and personal risks,” said Lisa Rice, President and CEO of NFHA. She added that NFHA and the co-plaintiffs filed this lawsuit to make sure that these discriminatory practices come to an end.

The lawsuit also states that Bank of America took possession of these homes after it foreclosed on the properties and became the owner of record and that as owner of these homes, Bank of America is responsible for routine exterior maintenance on all its properties.

NFHA states that the lawsuit is the result of a multi-year investigation undertaken by the organization and its fair housing agency partners. The NFHA said in June 2009, they notified Bank of America of maintenance problems that appeared to violate the Fair Housing Act. The investigation documented 37 objective aspects of routine exterior maintenance that are common factors used in the preservation maintenance industry. The lawsuit claims that NFHA met with Bank of America officials for more than a year and offered recommendations to ensure proper treatment of its homes in communities of color. Two Maryland homeowners joined this federal discrimination lawsuit because of Bank of America’s failure to maintain and secure homes next to theirs.

NFNA claims that poor appearance of Bank of America-owned homes in middle and working class neighborhoods of color destroys the homes’ curb appeal for prospective owners, occupants and buyers and invites vandalism because the homes appear to be abandoned. And that the blight created by Bank of America/Safeguard  inaction to maintain their properties results in a decline in home values for African American and Latino families who live next door or nearby, deepening the racial wealth gap and inequality in America.

In a statement to the Toledo Blade, a Bank of America representative said that the lawsuit’s allegations are “without merit,” because Bank of America applies “uniform practices to the management and marketing of vacant bank-owned properties across the U.S., regardless of their location.”