Tagged: Paul Graziano

HABC and Accountability?

If you haven’t already watched this video that appeared on WBAL’s website recently, you should.  (But not while eating.  You’ll thank me for the warning later.)  In the video, reporter David Collins walks around a rental home owned by Steven McFadgen, a Virginia attorney.  McFadgen had rented the home to a low-income tenant under HUD’s Section 8 program — a program that is administered locally in Baltimore by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC), headed by Paul Graziano.

Interesting to note — the tenant, while receiving Section 8 benefits — is also a Section 8 housing inspector, employed by HABC.  In other words — it’s her job to make sure landlords who participate in the Section 8 rental program are maintaining their homes in a safe and healthy manner.  And she’s also employed by the city’s housing authority — apparently at a salary rate that qualifies her for federal housing benefits.

Listing for Shauntae R Jones, HABC Inspector, in the Baltimore municipal phone directory.

Listing for Shauntae Jones, HABC Inspector, in the Baltimore municipal phone directory.

I won’t go into detail about the video — it’s nauseating (hence my warning about not eating while watching) — but I will tell you that the words “feces, roaches, and trash” are mentioned.

If this is how this woman and her family live — perhaps she isn’t qualified to inspect properties.  I’ve heard stories from landlords about their homes being trashed — this is the first time I’ve seen photos/video of something this awful. And the refusal of HABC to take action against its employee is mind-boggling.  With so many in Baltimore who are out of work — surely they could find someone more qualified for this position than Ms. Jones.

This story is more about Ms. Jones and the way she apparently lives — it’s about HABC and yet again, it’s just another example of the utter lack of accountability within the organization. Hopefully some day we’ll have a mayor and city council that understand our city — even its poorest residents — need and deserve better leadership for all of our city agencies, but especially at HABC.

Last Link Roundup of 2012!

A recap of all the newsworthy links in 2012.

January

Early in 2012, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was grilled by the MD Legislature about the status of the city’s lead paint judgements.  The city was refusing to pay, saying the judgement would bankrupt the city — a shame they didn’t think about that before allowing children to live in lead paint-filled homes.

A Federal judge sided with the City of Chicago in its fight to hold banks accountable for maintaining and securing vacant homes.

Business Insider had this to say about Baltimore’s neighborhoods — apparently some are just not worth saving.  Is your neighborhood worth more to you than it is to your elected officials?

February

Maryland property managers got their knickers in a bunch over being asked to pay what amounts to $4 a month for lead paint insurance.  Still seems cheaper than a multimillion dollar lawsuit.

March

Lots of articles have been written about squatters and takeovers of foreclosed and abandoned homes.  This one from the Chicago Tribune, wrtten in March, is particularly good.

Also in March, WBAL suggested development along Baltimore’s waterfront could suffer due to a loss of tax breaks for developers.  What were they thinking??

In Chicago, a young girl was raped at gunpoint between two vacant homes in the West Englewood neighborhood.  Neighbors say the vacants are more than just a threat to property values.

Instead of paying lead paint lawsuit judgments, the city’s Housing Authority was paying for take-home cars for its employees, according to WBAL’s Jayne Miller.

Metro Dream Homes owner and founder Andrew Hamilton Williams, Jr. was sentenced for his role in a mortgage fraud scheme that cost numerous people their homes, and bilked them out of $78 million.

Philadelphia rejoiced upon hearing that Robert Coyle, the “Millionaire Slumlord” was charged with defrauding banks of $10 million.

I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve gotten in the past year from people who have major problems with their “rehabbed” homes, due to the fact that the “contractors” never bothered to get permits.  Here’s a story from the Baltimore Sun about one such homeowner (he’s also my neighbor, and a stand-up guy.)

April

Another article on rehabs without permits appeared in the Baltimore Sun in April.  This time, the owner was threatened with jail time.  I guess since it happened in Canton, the city decided to get tough.

The Detroit Free Press did an excellent series on keeping schoolchildren safe on their route to school — something most people take for granted.  Unfortunately, in some major cities — kids have an unsafe walk, passing vacant homes that are a magnet for criminal activity.

Travers and Tremayne Johnson, two brothers who were accused of setting a dog on fire, were found not guilty by a Baltimore jury.

BCFD wasn’t meeting NFPA standards for response times, according to an article by Baltimore Brew — yet the mayor and Chief Clack continued with their plans to close three Baltimore fire companies.

Detroit experienced a rash of arsons back in April — 16 fires in all, on the city’s east side.

Baltimore experienced a few vacant fires in April, too.  Most notably the fire on Yale Avenue in the city’s Irvington neighborhood.

According to a Baltimore Sun article, Builders of Hope, a North Carolina-based nonprofit chosen by Ray Lewis, was supposed to be renovating hundreds of homes in Baltimore City, near Johns Hopkins University in East Baltimore. Since then, we’ve heard nothing about the project — or the organization, except news of their ongoing dispute with the City of New Orleans and two contractors, allegedly for nonpayment of invoices.

April and May brought the mayor’s proposed cuts to the fire department — including the removal of truck and engine companies that serve our city’s poorest neighborhoods.  Thankfully, one truck company was spared the axe.  Two were not so lucky.

May

Speaking of the fire department, May saw quite a few arson fires — including more than 12 in Youngstown, OH.

Firefighters in Huntington, WV let a vacant home burn after being called to the same address multiple times.

And a fire in the 1100 block of Barclay Street in Baltimore may have been arson, according to this Baltimore Sun article.

June

And in the “It’s not just you, Baltimore” category:  In June, DC City Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown was charged with mortgage fraud.

Also in June, Florida topped the list of states with the highest incidents of mortgage fraud and an Ohio State trooper was sentenced to 50 months in prison for fraud.

July

In July, the head of Baltimore’s housing authority continued to justify the agency’s refusal to pay court-ordered lead paint judgements.  While Paul Graziano was busy refusing to pay these judgements, a DC man was scamming the Housing Authority of almost $1.4 million.

American Banker discussed the pros and cons of using eminent domain as a way for municipalities to get vacant homes out of the hands of banks.

Two big storms hit Baltimore City, and the mayor and fire chief still wanted to cut our fire companies.  This didn’t sit will with the two IAFF Local presidents.

BCFD Chief Jim Clack received a hostile reception from IAFF members at July’s Firehouse Expo.

Habitat for Humanity and the Home Depot Foundation expanded a home renovation program for veterans.

August

WBAL asked if Baltimore City would pay for residents’ flooded basements, or will these residents once again get stuck with the city’s tab?

After being called to aid an injured man, a Baltimore City EMT and the patient fell through a hole in the front porch of a vacant home, into the basement.

Also in August, the Hip Hop Chicken on Hillen Road, a place where some swear you could get the best chicken ever — caught fire.

A fair housing case that dates back to 1995 was finally settled, giving some Baltimore families the right to move into safer housing.

September

Lots of housing-related crime happened in September. Kenneth Koehler of Baltimore pleaded guilty to wire fraud, in a scheme that left mortgage lenders holding the bag for over $1 million in debt.  Six Upper Fells Point homes went into foreclosure as a result of this scam.

Lorain, Ohio used an interesting method to move vacant homes to demolition — search warrants.

Los Angeles City attorney called US Bank and Deutsche Bank “slumlords”, accused the banks of neglecting foreclosed properties.

Detroit Crime Commission tackled crime by going after large-scale slumlords, vacants, and arson.

An Ellicott City woman pleaded guilty to stealing $1.5 million in a mortgage fraud scheme.

Also in September, a series of arson fires did some major widespread damage to Detroit’s east side.

October

I was in Baltimore Magazine in October.  Spending four days or more with a journalist is like therapy (only cheaper and more fun). I highly recommend it.  I also did a Q&A with Technically Baltimore — they appeal to my data nerd side, and who doesn’t like talking about data?

Edward Ericson, Jr. from the Baltimore City Paper wrote about the debacle with the Prisoner’s Aid Association-owned properties that have been condemned, foreclosed on, or are in foreclosure.  It’s definitely worth reading both articles:  First Article  Second Article.

The Baltimore Sun reported that former District 2 councilman Nick D’Adamo was given a cushy job as a “Special Assistant” to BCFD Chief James Clack.  Hey…wasn’t Squad 11 in D’Adamo’s former district?

Speaking of dumb moves by government — Wayne County, MI (yeah that’s Detroit) is apparently got rid of its ability to investigate and prosecute arson cases.  In Detroit.  A city with probably more arson than any other city in the world.

Just as BCFD Chief Clack finished crowing about his impressive fire statistics in front of the City Council — five people, a grandmother and four children, were killed in a house fire. As much as people like to bandy about impressive stats and data — actions still speak louder than words.

November

ProPublica published their “Living Apart” series in November.  The series is about fair housing in the US, and how things went terribly wrong, despite the best intentions of lawmakers on both sides of the fence.  You can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

Baltimore City demolished a block of vacants in West Baltimore — I hope it turns into something that benefits residents.   You can see how the block looked before demolition here.

Baltimore Brew was quick to report on the community impact grant money our city gave the casino developers — money that was earmarked for poor communities like Pigtown, Sharp-Leadenhall, and Westport.

In Milwaukee, WI, foreclosed and abandoned homes continued to be a problem — yet Wisconsin’s governor Scott Walker used settlement money received from a federal mortgage abuse lawsuit to balance the budget.

Want to buy that vacant foreclosure next door before it becomes a neighborhood nuisance?  That may be harder than you think.

Louisville, KY created a registry of vacant homes, and a plan for what to do when owners don’t maintain them.

Foreclosed home caretakers sued a Bank of America affiliate in California, claiming the company cheated them out of overtime and wages.

December

As you can imagine, folks in Cleveland are tired of slumlords, too.  And they had some words for an absentee slumlord who lives in Florida.

In New York, an attorney was convicted on multiple counts of mortgage fraud, but the NY Attorney General lost a few counts, despite testimony from the attorney’s employees.

An office building in downtown Baltimore will be converted to apartments — however, it looks like no affordable units are planned.

ABC2 News reports that an Owings Mills Man will be spending the next 25 years in prison for his role in a mortgage fraud scheme.

Even more apartments coming to downtown Baltimore, according to Steve Kilar at the Baltimore Sun.  It’s unclear whether any of the buildings will include workforce housing.

A rather bizarre interview with the CEO of Wells Fargo about the economy, mortgage fraud, and board conflicts.

DSNews and CoreLogic report that mortgage fraud is on the rise again, with increased short sale fraud expected.

Howard Park is still waiting for their ShopRite Supermarket — what’s the holdup?

Interesting to see that Johns Hopkins is pledging millions of dollars to fix up the neighborhoods surrounding its Homewood campus — what about all of the lead paint-filled blighted homes owned by the Bloomberg School of Public Health near Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore?

Speaking of mortgage fraud, three people were indicted for their role in a fraud scheme that concentrated around houses in the Reservoir Hill neighborhood.

PG County has seen its fair share of mortgage fraud, too.

Brighter days ahead for one Detroit neighborhood — thanks to the residents who live there.

While steel shutters might be great for keeping vagrants out of vacants, they pose a challenge to firefighters and might result in greater property loss, according to Chicago Fire Department Chief of Special Operations Michael Fox.

TODAY, December 31, is the last day you can file your Maryland Homestead Tax Credit application.  If your application is not postmarked by today, you will not receive the credit — file now!

Maryland home values fell 7% in 2012, according to this article in the Baltimore Sun.

Link Roundup

Did you know Maryland offers an income tax credit for low-income/elderly renters?  It follows the premise that renters pay property taxes as part of their rent, and therefore should be allowed an opportunity to recoup some of that money.  The deadline for filing each year is September 1.

The past few years have seen an uptick in violent crimes against realtors.  The most horrific of these crimes occurred in 2010 against a realtor named Vivian Martin in Youngstown, OH —  she was found murdered in the kitchen of a burning vacant home. Another reason why municipalities need to combat the growing problem of vacants as a venue for crime.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced last Friday the distribution of $42 million in grants to housing counseling agencies, calling the programs “indispensible”.

People ask me all the time why I “hate Baltimore”.  I don’t hate Baltimore.  Seriously, would YOU spend almost all of your free time in the neighborhoods I walk around, documenting blighted vacants, taking risks with your personal safety (albeit small risks) for a city you hate?  Of course not.  You’d simply move away, as so many of my friends and neighbors have done.  What I do despise, however, is the phony head-in-the-sand mentality I come up against — a combination of newer residents who are merely echoing the nonsense they were told by their realtor, city officials who have a vested interest in looking the other way, or long-time community association folks who don’t want to admit their 20-year Plan A hasn’t worked….in 20 years.  Phony boosterism sucks — and here’s why.  The last paragraph says it all, so you can skip ahead if you don’t want to read the whole thing.

Nerd Alert:  I love data.  Especially crime data.  I’ll bet I’m not alone…

Appraisers, lenders, and investors seem to be routinely inflating home values prior to foreclosure, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

One Brookings economist estimates the number of unemployed workers in the US to be around 10 million — how to fix the problem?  He suggests the government should subsidize new hires. 

Baltimore’s Housing Director Paul Graziano continues to duck and dodge when it comes to the health and well-being of city children who live in public housing.  How long are we going to tolerate this, Baltimore?

Two Ohio lawmakers have introduced the Restore Our Neighborhoods Act of 2012, which would result in billions of dollars that municipalities could use to demolish blighted neighborhoods.  Will be interesting to see if Maryland representatives will vote for or against.

Chicago’s answer to Baltimore’s Stanley Rochkind?

Want a vacant home in Buffalo, NY?  Move it, and it’s yours.

Housing Authority Assets to be Seized

WBAL and the Daily Record are both reporting that certain assets belonging to the Baltimore Housing Authority are to be seized by the sherrif’s department in order to pay for lead paint judgements the City has refused to pay.

The assets include vehicles and computers, which will be auctioned off.  Evan Goldman, the attorney who had the foresight to go after non-federally owned assets, said “It’s going to be a public auction advertised in the paper, and anyone can go there and bid on a non-federal vehicle and all the funds are going to be used to pay the judgment.”

By the way, in case you were wondering — taxpayers have been paying the tab for HABC’s legal fees.

City-Owned Blight: 2302 and 2304 E North Avenue

Property Address:  2302 and 2304 E North Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21213

Property Owner:  Housing Authority of Baltimore City (HABC) PO Box 1917, Baltimore, MD 21203

City Council District and Contact:  District 12, Carl Stokes

2302 and 2304 E North Avenue

Link Roundup

You’ve probably heard that Senator Charles Grassley (R, Iowa) has launched an investigation into the fraud and waste at Baltimore Housing — read a letter from Senator Grassley to Sean Donovan, HUD Secretary here.  Link opens a PDF.

Property owners receiving the homestead tax credit — beware.  If you’re not actually living in the home, you’ll probably lose the credit, and owe the city back taxes.  And rightfully so.  However, we find it odd this article doesn’t give credit (no pun intended) where credit is due.  A resident is responsible for finding the city’s negligence, as documented here in an earlier article.

Kevin Pushia, a disgraced pastor and slumlord, was sentenced to life plus 45 years for his role in the murder of a mentally disabled man in Baltimore. You can read more about this “man of the cloth” here.

The FBI has released the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment report — interesting reading. You can see which gangs are active in each state here.

Richmond has two slots for tenant representatives on the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, yet one of the slots remain unfilled.

New multi-family subsidized housing comes to Brewer’s Hill and O’Donnell Heights.

Residents are frustrated with the unfinished work by a City-hired contractor.  Considering his track record, we’re not surprised.

The Most Powerful Man in Baltimore Real Estate?

An interesting way to describe Paul Graziano, director of Baltimore’s Housing Authority.

We received an email from the Baltimore Real Estate Investors Association, inviting us to a meeting where Paul Graziano will speak to the group (including slumlords and owners of blighted vacant homes) and address questions regarding Section 8 housing, vacant homes, and other topics of interest to property investors.

It’s inappropriate for the head of a city agency to be addressing a group that is run by a man whose business practices are questionable at best.  Joe DiMaggio is currently fighting a lead paint lawsuit, has failed to register rental properties, and other housing code violation lawsuits.  He also has an open warrant for failing to appear in housing court.

Again, Mr. Graziano has shown bad judgement by agreeing to address this group as a colleague and not as the head of a regulatory agency — and he has again shown his lack of ethics by maintaining relationships with people who have shown such a blatant disregard for our city and its taxpaying residents.