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‘Shame campaign’ to target banks that drag out foreclosures

A “shame campaign” intended to prod banks into quicker resolutions on foreclosed homes was launched Friday in Buffalo’s Old First Ward.

Elected officials and community activists gathered outside 20 Sidway St., which has been vacant since its owner died in 2007. Foreclosure proceedings were initiated in 2010, then the judgment was vacated and the process started all over again, according to community activists.

A sign imploring Bank of America to “be a good neighbor” and “complete the foreclosure process” was stuck in the front lawn, which appeared to have been recently cut. But the lawn and the front steps were littered with debris.

“We are starting a shame campaign … to hold the banks accountable,” said Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo.

Pickets and boycotts against banks also are planned, he said, as efforts continue at the state level to pass legislation requiring banks to contact municipalities and neighbors when foreclosure proceedings commence.

“We have tried for many years to get legislation passed,” Kearns said. “We’re tired of the banks being, and creating, a nuisance in our community.”

A similar “shaming” approach was taken in Cheektowaga in September 2013, when three “zombie” homes – at 68 and 257 Chapel Ave. and 42 Parktrail Lane – were marked by signs that identified not only the bank allegedly holding the mortgages, but included toll-free phone numbers for residents to call.

Because of its condition, the home at 257 Chapel was demolished by the end of 2013, according to Cheektowaga Town Attorney Kevin G. Schenk. The futures of the two other houses remain unresolved.

Both Kearns and Common Council member David A. Franczyk, who represents the Fillmore District, said they intend to talk to the state and city comptroller, respectively, about doing government business with banks that stall foreclosures.

The common thinking is that the house at 20 Sidway isn’t too far gone.

“This place could be saved,” said Art Robinson, a housing court liaison for the Fillmore District.

“This is a beautiful neighborhood.”

Franczyk said, “It’s a neighborhood on the move. There are so many developments that are happening here. You have homeowners with pride.”

Concern also is growing about the house at 12 Sidway, once occupied by an award-winning gardener who moved out of state, according to a neighbor. There’s a building permit posted and foundation work in progress, but the house has been vacant for years.

“I sit on my porch and this is what I look at,” said Pat Szast, who lives across the street in one of three newer homes built in 1995. “You call the city ... they said it’s in housing court. You just give up.”

Kearns is hoping for the best in the new campaign, which he says will extend into the suburbs and beyond. “I think the only way we’re going to win this fight is through shaming them,” he said.

Schenk isn’t sure how much impact the sign campaign had in Cheektowaga. “I don’t know if the signs did any good. It certainly was worth a try,” he said.