Cuyahoga County Treasurer Writes About Slavic Village, Foreclosures and The Poignancy Behind the Crisis

By
Real Estate Agent with Howard Hanna Cleveland City Office

Jim Rokakis has been our Treasurer for quite some time. I had no idea how eloquently he could write a story. The Washington Post's Outlook section featured an article he wrote today. The article is about everyone wanting the American Dream, not having enough money to get it, and then being given false hope that a loan can in fact make you a 'part of' that Dream.

There are parts of the article that make me uncomfortable, because he talks about predators and that includes Realtors®. He talks about Ohio's NAR lobbying against predatory lending legislation a few years ago. Regardless of how reputable I feel I am, it's hard not to feel uncomfortable when anyone in my industry makes all of us look bad.

I grew up on the outskirts of Slavic Village, the neighborhood he features. I was part of the lower middle class community, as a kid, with not a lot of throw away money to be had but a meal on the table a squeaky clean house and a neighborhood that watched out for all of us. You know, the part of the American Dream. We all had a sense of place, a sense of community. I personally think it all went wrong when the stakes kept getting higher; you know, the material evidence you could show people that proved you were still attaining the American Dream.

It's when Jim Rokakis talks about the human face attached to this predatory lending/foreclosure debacle that I started to cry:

      "....In my county, more than 74,000 homeowners have filed for property tax reductions this year -- people like the elderly woman on Berry Avenue on Cleveland's west side who brought me a beautiful photo montage of her well-maintained home, sitting in the midst of abandoned houses. She sobbed quietly as she explained that she had spent thousands of dollars on upkeep and on improving the property. That's money she will never get back. We've all read about the losses at investment-banking firms like Bear Stearns, but we don't read about that woman on Berry Avenue...."

My experience with this  begain last February, dealing with dozens of phone calls from people with desperation in their voices, trying to figure out how to get out of the predatory lending mess they were in. People too scared to call their lenders, people who realized they had been sold homes at the highest prices, over market value, by people involved in scams who represented themselves as agents, lenders, and reputable title company representatives. In the worst cases, there were no agents/Realtors® involved, they were simply approached by 'someone' who said they would give them money if they would put their names on a title and be a part of an effort to allow others who can't afford to buy do a rent with option to own and work for a year, paying them rent, and then buying the home.

Of course we know this sounds a lot like the Nigerian scams we still get in our emails every day. But to someone who needs quick money, or who always wanted to be a part of the American Dream, I guess the allure was too good to pass up.

Back to the article. Jim Rokakis equates the foreclosure mess that has been going on in the Slavic Village neighborhood for years, on the decimation of the community, the loss of sense of place and neighborhood cohesiveness. And he blames this in part on the death of a young girl who was caught in cross fire between two bad guys.

He explains the crisis' cost to cities this way:

"....Unfortunately, none of these bills addresses the costs to cities associated with maintaining, policing and, in the most dire case, demolishing neighborhoods such as Slavic Village. One bill introduced in Congress would allocate $100 million over the next three years to help with demolition costs -- a number that met with peals of laughter at a conference on vacant properties that I attended in Pittsburgh last week. "Add a zero," one participant suggested...."

I can remember conversations on AR a year ago when people said 'well, gee, that's too bad about all those foreclosures in your area but that is not happening here.' and in some cases, thankfully for you, it probably still isn't. But none of us exists in a vacuum. The crisis (and it is a crisis) affects the entire Country economically.....in the same way the crisis affected our own community microcosm of Slavic Village.

 Also pertinent: A Call To Arms Homeowners In A Bind Can Call Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland and Callahan's Cleveland Diary  Peace Out - 3C

Sunday October 7th Update: There will be a mtg on this issue and I wanted to post the info here:

Cleveland Councilwoman Nina Turner, who represents the Lee Harvard neighborhood, will hold a financial-education seminar at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to help residents avoid foreclosure. Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis will attend along with representatives from several banks and the Cleveland Housing Network. The seminar will be at the Harvard Community Services Center, 18240 Harvard Ave.

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Ambassador
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Jason Sardi
Auto & Home & Life Insurance throughout North Carolina - Charlotte, NC
Your Agent for Life
Carole - I'll have to check out that article in full but I think you are right, our economy has and will continue to be affected until we can straighten some of this out.
Sep 30, 2007 07:31 AM #1
Rainmaker
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Tim Bradford
Cleveland, OH
NMLS 250013
Carole, As always an excellent article and your personal touch adds to it.  
Sep 30, 2007 07:54 AM #2
Rainmaker
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Monika McGillicuddy
Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Verani Realty - Hampstead, NH
Southern NH & the Seacoast Area

Carole.

It is so sad and it does affect us all. I personally know of a lady this happened to. She was ashamed to ask for help so she signed her deed over to someone who would help her. Help her they did...right out the door! Very very sad!

Sep 30, 2007 08:41 AM #3
Rainer
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Carole Cohen
Howard Hanna Cleveland City Office - Cleveland, OH
Realtor, ePRO

Jason the article is about Cleveland but knowing you a bit anyway, it will touch you to the core.

Thank you Tim, and thank you for being one of the reputable local lenders!

Moni, your story is sad too; the elderly are a significant precentage of people who got involved when they should not have. Your area is lucky to have you!

Sep 30, 2007 09:01 AM #4
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Lenn Harley
Lenn Harley, Homefinders.com, MD & VA Homes and Real Estate - Leesburg, VA
Real Estate Broker - Virginia & Maryland

Oh, I suspect that we'll be seeing a lot more articles about the fall out from the mortgage mess.

I hate to think it, but I believe it will go much, much deeper. 

Sep 30, 2007 12:14 PM #5
Rainer
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Carole Cohen
Howard Hanna Cleveland City Office - Cleveland, OH
Realtor, ePRO

Lenn, hi.  I have been reading your posts on all the foreclosures in your area. It's humbling isn't it. I hate to see it but I think you are correct. It's not over. Especially with all the ARMs predicted to come due this coming month.

Sep 30, 2007 12:45 PM #6
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George Souto
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Carole, one can not read something like this and not feel for the people experiencing these things. But what I have a hard time with is when everyone in foreclosure gets grouped in with those that really got taken advantage of.  I feel for the victims, but not everyone in foreclosure is a victim, in fact they are in the situation that they are in because of their own greed, or for the reason that you gave "But to someone who needs quick money, or who always wanted to be a part of the American Dream, I guess the allure was too good to pass up."

It is sad when some one is truly a victim, especially the elderly, but in many cases the con-artists have very will participants.

I don't know what the answer is, but hopefully those that are truly in need of help will be able to receive it. 

Sep 30, 2007 02:07 PM #7
Rainer
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Carole Cohen
Howard Hanna Cleveland City Office - Cleveland, OH
Realtor, ePRO
George: I agree with all you said. And for whatever reason people got involved, now it is affecting our economy, at least here. Thanks George
Sep 30, 2007 04:18 PM #8
Rainmaker
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Mitchell J Hall
Compass - Manhattan, NY
Lic Associate RE Broker - Manhattan & Brooklyn
Carole, This is a great post. It is very sad indeed. Hopefully some of these predators will be prosecuted. Why demolish the neighborhood because they're empty houses. The city should take them over and implement some kind of affordable housing program. Some subsidized form of rentals limited equity ownership. Eventually the market will change. It takes urban planning and leadership  a vision for the future. The Slavic village will make a come back. I've seen it with Harlem and now the south bronx.
Oct 01, 2007 02:07 PM #9
Rainer
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Carole Cohen
Howard Hanna Cleveland City Office - Cleveland, OH
Realtor, ePRO
Hi Mitchell and wow, some of those are great ideas; I'm only half kidding about this, why don't you come to Cleveland and run for office! Bobby Kennedy moved and did it!  And I hope you are right
Oct 01, 2007 02:14 PM #10
Rainmaker
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Mitchell J Hall
Compass - Manhattan, NY
Lic Associate RE Broker - Manhattan & Brooklyn
Carole, lol Bobby Kennedy lost right. Harlem had boarded up shells of buildings for decades. The city took over many of them when Koch was mayor. 
Oct 01, 2007 02:27 PM #11
Rainer
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Carole Cohen
Howard Hanna Cleveland City Office - Cleveland, OH
Realtor, ePRO

I'd be interested in knowing the cost to rebuild and the cost to demolish; I do know we are not flush with money lol

And you wouldn't lose! I can manage your campaign :-)

Oct 01, 2007 02:31 PM #12
Rainmaker
597,216
Mitchell J Hall
Compass - Manhattan, NY
Lic Associate RE Broker - Manhattan & Brooklyn
Mayor of Cleveland then I can run for President like Denis Kosinscki lol
Oct 01, 2007 02:49 PM #13
Rainer
111,655
Carole Cohen
Howard Hanna Cleveland City Office - Cleveland, OH
Realtor, ePRO
Ok it's a deal LOL
Oct 01, 2007 03:01 PM #14
Rainmaker
597,216
Mitchell J Hall
Compass - Manhattan, NY
Lic Associate RE Broker - Manhattan & Brooklyn
Carole, It is not just the city it is the private sector. The city should give developers incentives and tax breaks and abatements to build affordable housing. There is a program in NYC called Mitchell Lama (great name lol) Builders get all kinds of breaks if they build moderate income housing. In the Mitchell Lama program after 20-30 years they can opt out of the program and go private. Most of the buildings in NYC that were in the program are now opting for privitization and the homeowners and developers get a win fall.
Oct 02, 2007 12:50 AM #15
Rainer
111,655
Carole Cohen
Howard Hanna Cleveland City Office - Cleveland, OH
Realtor, ePRO
So that is how the Mitchell Lama buildings got started (yes great name lol) I like any program that is not just relying on city money; cause we don't have much LOL. 
Oct 02, 2007 11:56 AM #16
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