Cleveland Councilman: Plywood Alternatives On Abandoned Homes An 'Innovation' Out Of Crisis

Cleveland file photo. (Tony Ganzer / ideastream)
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This week Governor John Kasich signed a bill that bans the use of plywood to board up abandoned homes.  The provision was tacked on to a larger housing bill. This could mean instead of boarded-up windows, you may see more clear plastic coverings on abandoned homes.  I learned more about this plywood ban from Cleveland City Councilman Tony Brancatelli, representing Ward 12:

BRANCATELLI: “It really is specific to properties that go through the fast-track foreclosure.  And the fast-track foreclosure was supported by a lot of housing advocates.  This is something that we’ve been pushing for because we want to see properties that can be saved churned quickly.  And upon churning it fast, if banks and mortgage companies that have a monetary interest go through this process, then if they have to secure the property they’re required to use clear polycarbonate secure.”

GANZER: “And what is the benefit here—part of the benefit is being able to see into the property from the street, right?”

BRANCATELLI: “So having been the epicenter of the foreclosure crisis in Slavic Village, there’s a lot of levels of opportunity here that I see a value in. When this first came out I was very concerned about the cost, but I’ve really come around now to see how having a polycarbonate covering, and a clear-view covering, has been beneficial.  When you’re driving down the street, you don’t see board-up, after board-up, after board-up.  The other part of this is it’s actually very impermeable. You can’t break in.  You can go online and see some of the displays we’ve done.  I brought out our fire department, I brought out our police department, unless you have incredible power equipment, you can’t break in.  One of the problems we’ve had with board-ups is, not that it’s just ugly, but it’s also easy to break into.  We were seeing houses breached 2, 3, 4 times; houses getting stripped.  Then the other part is really on the safety factor.  You can see through the house, it has daylight.  You can’t have criminal activity going on behind it without someone knowing.  And it has shown that it can preserve the asset for a longer period of time, and add more value to it.”

GANZER: “When we talk about this costing double than plywood, what is that monetary value? Specifically how much does that cost?”

BRANCATELLI: “Yeah so when you think about something double in value, it can be pretty wild and crazy but it really isn’t.  If you’re talking about a $25 opening, it’s a $50 opening. When you talk about securing on the first floor, if you’re going to spend another $500 to secure a property and preserve its asset, you realize in the long term it’s well worth it.  It does add a cost, but it’s not a tax-payer cost.  It’s borne out of the banking industry, it’s borne out of the person who wants to preserve their asset and quite frankly when this first came around you didn’t see a lot of people pushing back because once they’d seen the product working they saw that it did add value to what they were doing.  It’s not something that is going to impact the city itself—the City of Cleveland still has a right to board a property for nuisance and blight purposes.  They’re not going to have to use the polycarbonate, they can still use plywood.  And I was looking to do this legislatively through the city before the state stepped in to help work with the banking industry to say how do we preserve these assets longer.  And again, it’s also around securing.”

GANZER: “Just to say it again: the cost is being borne by whoever’s foreclosing…”

BRANCATELLI: “Yeah, we’ve actually see this done voluntarily now with Fannie Mae.  Fannie Mae’s made a decision that they want to use this as a preservation tool, so they did it before this was a law.  You’re starting to see others in the banking industry that have started saying we want to use this as a tool.  When you learn how to do something better, the idea is you do it.  And so now we’re mandating it so it’s being borne by the banks, and if you’re foreclosing through the fast-track process, and you have to secure a property, this is how you’re going to do it.”

GANZER: “This might be a tough question, but going through the foreclosure crisis and having it be as devastating as it was, is this product an example of innovation through crisis, or is it a sign that we’re moving beyond a first stage of the foreclosure crisis, or second stage—how would you describe it?”

BRANCATELLI: “I think it truly was an innovation through the crisis. When you were dealing with property preservation folks, we saw all different styles.  Within the City of Cleveland we were painting over boards, and we actually made that a requirement, that if you’re going to put boards up you had to paint them. We saw artistic decorating over boards.  You saw other companies use steel boarding.  So you saw lots of techniques being used throughout the foreclosure crisis and this was one that came through property preservation, companies like Safeguard who secure thousands of properties…said let’s look at this a different way, so it was an innovation out of the crisis, and now we’re seeing that it can be used in other applications.”

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