NFHA expands complaint against Bank of America over foreclosed properties

By Jessica M. Karmasek | Nov 15, 2013

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline) -- This week, the National Fair Housing Alliance, along with five member organizations, added four more cities to a federal housing discrimination complaint against Bank of America.

The NFHA, which fights housing discrimination, has added Baltimore; Toledo, Ohio; and Waukegan and Evanston, Ill., to the complaint, originally filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in September 2012.

The organizations, in their amended complaint, also are providing HUD with new evidence in Aurora, Ill.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; and Milwaukee, Wis.

The five member organizations that conducted investigations with the NFHA are the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, the HOPE Fair Housing Center, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Fair Housing Council, Open Communities and the Toledo Fair Housing Center.

The NFHA and the organizations allege that Bank of America continues to maintain and market foreclosed homes in majority white neighborhoods in a much better manner than it does in majority African-American and Latino neighborhoods.

Failing to maintain and market homes based on the racial or ethnic composition of the neighborhood violates the federal Fair Housing Act.

"Vacant homes are not just an eyesore for neighborhoods -- they are a serious public health concern," said Rebecca Morley, executive director of the National Center for Healthy Housing. "Research shows that vacant homes are linked to residential fires, rodent infestations, lead exposure, crime, mental health issues, and even have been implicated in asthma and obesity."

The amended complaint now brings the total to 20 metropolitan areas where Bank of America is alleged to have discriminated in its maintenance and marketing of its bank-owned homes, also known as Real Estate Owned properties.

The organizations said they evaluated the maintenance and marketing of REO properties for 39 different types of maintenance deficiencies, including: broken windows and doors, overgrown lawns, trash on the property, mold, water damage and other problems that could cause health issues for the neighbors and community at large if not taken care of properly.

The organizations said they also looked at how a home was marketed, such as whether there was a visible, professional "for sale" sign.

"Bank of America has known about these problems for more than four years, yet, sadly, they have chosen a path that continues to harm the health of people living in these communities. They could fix these problems. We have to ask, 'Why haven't they?'" said Shanna L. Smith, president and CEO of the National Fair Housing Alliance.

"Bank of America's conduct sends a message that it does not care about the viability of the neighborhoods or the health of the residents in communities of color."

The other cities named in the original and amended complaint include: Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.; Oakland and Richmond, Calif.; Denver and Aurora, Colo.; Orlando; Miami; Atlanta; Indianapolis; Las Vegas; Dayton, Ohio; Philadelphia; Charleston, S.C.; Memphis; Dallas; Washington, D.C.; and Prince George's County, Md.

A Bank of America spokesperson told CBS News Thursday that the NFHA doesn't "know enough about the houses and the process they go through."

Earlier this year, the NFHA reached an agreement with Wells Fargo Bank, settling a similar complaint for more than $40 million.

Like the complaint against Bank of America, the NFHA claimed Wells Fargo wasn't maintaining foreclosed properties in minority neighborhoods.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by email at

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