GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) - For three decades, Judy Peters has lived in a southwest Grand Rapids neighborhood. All she has to do is walk down to the corner of Withey and Buchanan to see what the foreclosure crisis has done to her neighborhood. In less than a decade, she said, her property value has fallen by two-thirds.
"They just let the property go," she told 24 Hour News 8 as she looked at one home. "They have done nothing to keep it up."
In this case, "they" is Bank of America. The home on Withey SW doesn't have much curb appeal.
"The appraiser that came out told us that a good deal of the appraisal is based on the foreclosed housing in the neighborhood," Peters said. "The fact that there are so many and the fact that they're not maintained."
The National Fair Housing Alliance says Bank of America is putting their efforts to sell foreclosed homes in the suburbs and ignore the inner city properties they own, including Grand Rapids.
The group evaluated Bank of America real estate-owned (REO) properties in the metropolitan areas of Atlanta, Dallas, Dayton, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Oakland/Richmond/Concord, Phoenix, metropolitan Washington, DC and Grand Rapids.
The organization wants the federal government to step in.
They've filed a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development against Bank of America, claiming the bank discriminates by failing to maintain and market foreclosed homes in African-American and Latino sections of each city.
In Grand Rapids, 87 homes were compared. (See map in photo area.) Fair Housing advocates say not only are surrounding property values hurt by the lack of foreclosure upkeep, it also hurts revitalization efforts.
"We're talking about basic things such as cutting the lawn picking up the trash, taking care of accumulating mail, putting a 'For Sale' sign in the yard, rather than the distressed property signs or auction signs that are in the window," said Nancy Haynes of the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan .
2 4 Hour News 8 checked four homes on the Bank of American website as bank-owned property for sale -- two on the southwest side of Grand Rapids, one in Ada and one in Kentwood.
At the house on Withey SW, an auction sign is posted. Another house on Caulfield SW has no 'For Sale' sign. Both looked like they needed some clean up.
The house in Ada had more curb appeal, but there was no 'For Sale' sign posted. There also was no 'For Sale' sign at the house in Kentwood, and the lawn needed work.
Haynes defended the discrimination claims. The Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, she said, looked at the 87 properties in February, May and August and found obvious discrepancies between white neighborhoods and minority neighborhoods.
To Judy Peters, she believes Bank of America is playing favorites -- and she sees it next door to where she lives.
"Definitely if it were in a more affluent neighborhood, they'd be doing something with the property instead of just letting it sit and it's eventually going to fall down," she said.
In a statement to 24 Hour News 8, Bank of America's Jumana Bauwens said: "While we share NFHA's concern about neighborhoods, we strongly deny their allegations and stand behind our property maintenance and marketing practices. Bank of America is committed to stabilizing and revitalizing communities that have been impacted by the economic downturn, foreclosures and property abandonment. We actively address the needs of such communities through existing programs, partnerships with non profits and governments and continued investment in innovative programs."
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