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Housing advocates allege Bank of America discriminates on REO properties

Housing advocates Tuesday added Chicago to a growing list of markets involved in a federal housing discrimination complaint against Bank of America. The National Fair Housing Alliance alleges that Bank of America has not taken the same care maintaining and marketing foreclosed homes that it owns in communities of color as it has for those in predominantly white neighborhoods.

“Companies that do anything to perpetuate residential segregation, violate the Fair Housing Act,” said Shanna Smith, President and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance. “Bank of America is failing to take care of properties in communities of color, thereby perpetuating residential segregation.”

Up until this week, the complaint, filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, included ten cities. Tuesday’s announcement in downtown Chicago amended the complaint to include Chicago, Milwaukee and Indianapolis, where local fair housing organizations conducted their own investigations of homes that are owned by Bank of America in high-foreclosure zip codes.

HOPE Fair Housing Center in Wheaton and South Suburban Housing Center in Homewood investigated 46 properties in the metropolitan Chicago region, including homes in the city of Chicago, south suburban Dolton, and west suburban Aurora. They found that the bank's homes in communities of color were roughly twice as likely as those in white neighborhoods to have trash on the property and damaged roofs; twelve times as likely to have damaged windows; and nearly five times as likely to have broken doors or locks. The investigation also found that bank-owned properties in white neighborhoods were more likely to have a “for sale” sign in front than those in minority neighborhoods.

Anne Houghtaling of HOPE said the neglect and failure to market the homes as aggressively in communities of color damage otherwise stable neighborhoods. “These homes are an eyesore in the neighborhood,” said Houghtaling “You look at the other houses, and the other houses are beautiful. They’ve got flower boxes, and they’ve got porches, and they’ve got chairs out on the front porch. And then from a block away you see the trash and you see the boarded-up windows, and you know that there’s the foreclosure.”

Houghtaling added that in white neighborhoods, the only indication that a home might be foreclosed is the “for sale” sign in the front, because the properties are otherwise well maintained.

In a statement, a Bank of America representative said the company denies the allegations and stands behind its property maintenance and marketing practices. The statement added, “Bank of America is committed to stabilizing and revitalizing communities that have been impacted by the economic downturn, foreclosures and property abandonment.”

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