News Column

BofA Foreclosures in Charleston Minority Areas Form Basis of Lawsuit

Oct. 11, 2012

Tyrone Richardson

Two groups filed a federal housing-discrimination complaint against Bank of America on Wednesday, alleging that the financial powerhouse does not do enough to keep up and sell its foreclosed homes in minority neighborhoods in Charleston.

The National Fair Housing Alliance and the Fair Housing Continuum amended a previous complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. They said the lender's foreclosed properties in white areas "are much better maintained and marketed than its properties in African-American and Latino neighborhoods" in Charleston, as well as in Orlando, Fla.

The nonprofit housing alliance and other plaintiffs filed the original suit last month that identified properties owned by Bank of America in eight metro areas in California, Michigan, Ohio, South Florida, Texas, Arizona and Washington, D.C. A spokeswoman for the Charlotte-based financial giant released a statement supporting the company's handling of its foreclosures.

"While we share NFHA's concern about neighborhoods, we strongly deny their allegations and stand behind our property maintenance and marketing practices," according to the statement. "Bank of America is committed to stabilizing and revitalizing communities that have been impacted by the economic downturn, foreclosures and property abandonment. We actively address the needs of such communities through existing programs, partnerships with nonprofits and governments and continued investment in innovative programs."

The amended complaint was based on an investigation of the condition of five bank-owned homes in Charleston and 14 in Orlando over the summer, officials said Wednesday.

"One of our nation's most profitable banks is leading the way in causing blight and depressing property values in African American and Latino neighborhoods," said Shanna L. Smith, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance. "How hard can it be to cut the grass, secure doors and clean up trash? This maintenance is the norm in predominantly white neighborhoods and should be the same in African American and Latino neighborhoods."

Three of the five houses reviewed in the Charleston area were in predominately African-American neighborhoods. Of those, two were in disrepair, officials said.

In total, the nonprofit's investigation looked at 392 foreclosed homes owned by Bank of America in 10 cities. It looked at issues such as overgrown lawns, broken windows, strewn trash, unsecured doors and lack of "for sale" signs.

Bank of America is the latest financial institution targeted by the National Fair Housing Alliance in recent months. The group filed a similar HUD complaint this year against Wells Fargo and US Bancorp.

Officials declined to identify all the investigated Bank of America properties in the Charleston area, saying some have been sold and that they did not want to invade the new owners' privacy.

Charleston is one of the smaller samples of Bank of America's foreclosures that the housing allinace has looked into. Officials defended the size of the sample, saying it was all the listed bank-owned properties Bank of America had in the area at the time of the review.

The investigation continues, and more details could be released in the next several weeks, Smith said.

Source: (c)2012 The Post and Courier (Charleston, S.C.). Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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