Trying to Slow the Foreclosures 

As one department deals with blighted homes, others attempt to get ahead of the crisis.

The Oakland Building Department's response to blight is an effort to deal with foreclosures once they happen. At the forefront of the problem, the Oakland city attorney's office is working to establish tangible financial consequences for lenders who foreclose and then evict their tenants. But in spite of the Oakland city ordinance that proclaims foreclosure an unjust cause for eviction, the numbers of foreclosures keep rising.

According to Alex Nguyen, director of the city attorney's Neighborhood Law Corps, his department is interested in forcing lenders to immediately assume the financial burden of the maintenance of foreclosed homes — a step that would make foreclosures less economically viable to the new property-owning banks.

In Richmond, meanwhile, the city council just enacted legislation to make tenant eviction due to foreclosure illegal. Los Angeles is the only other California city with legislation that exclusively combats foreclosure eviction. Members of community groups that helped advocate for Richmond's new law said that while this legislation was a good start, successful implementation would require outreach efforts so that tenants are aware that they have this new protection.

Meanwhile, Oakland's Housing and Community Development Department is working to buy back foreclosed properties and convert them into affordable housing units. According to Acting Director Michele Byrd, the city council awarded $8.2 million in federal funds to two nonprofit groups working together to rehab communities, the Urban Strategies Council and the Oakland Community Land Trust. This money will be used in a land trade effort, in which roughly 200 foreclosed properties in East and West Oakland will be bought back by these organizations, with the city's financial support, and ultimately resold at affordable prices. With the foreclosures continuing, however, Byrd said, "It is really bringing down the value for home-owners and for neighborhoods. And it makes it really difficult to redevelop communities in terms of housing and commercial development." She hopes these recently acquired funds will be the start of a positive change for Oakland flatlands housing.

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