- Associated Press - Monday, April 4, 2016

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) - Officials in Medford are considering using a 1989 state law to get owners of abandoned properties to fix them up and reduce neighborhood blight.

Across the city, there are more than 400 mostly bank-owned homes that sit vacant, often creating problems for law enforcement and a nuisance for neighbors, the Medford Mail-Tribune reported (https://goo.gl/C2m5Sj).

The state law, which has been used by cities such as Portland and Gresham, allows cities to foreclose on properties that have become a threat to the health and safety of a community.

“It’s a very powerful tool,” Deputy City Attorney Kevin McConnell said. “I don’t think it will address the problem completely, but it will go a long way toward helping deal with it.”

Under the law, the city or another agency can initiate a receivership action against a problem property. Once the city gains control, it can begin to rehabilitate it. The threat of foreclosure could prompt banks and others to fix or renovate the properties, McConnell said.

Mayor Gary Wheeler says he likes the idea of a housing receivership.

The Medford City Council appears to be receptive to the idea of a program to deal with the large number of abandoned properties, the Mail-Tribune reported.

In 2009, the city began a registry of abandoned properties and required lenders to notify the city if a house was vacant for more than 10 days. Banks and mortgage companies own the vast majority of vacant properties.

Suzi Gish, records specialist in the Medford police code enforcement division, identified 415 properties on the registry that are owned by banks. The division has identified 42 properties that are boarded up or considered blight, half of which are on the bank-owned list.

Rick Simon, spokesman for Bank of America Home Loans and Servicing, said he reviewed the city’s list and found it outdated. He said only four of properties on the list are in his company’s servicing portfolio.

“The bank takes its responsibility for property preservation seriously, and all four of these properties have been inspected during this month under routine property preservation practices,” Simon said.

Twenty percent of the mortgages on the city’s vacant properties registry are held by federal programs, such as Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

McConnell said the city could take receivership action against substandard housing that plagues certain areas of Medford. The program also could be used to rehabilitate houses that could become temporary residences for homeless families, he added.

Scott Foster, executive director of the Jackson County Housing Authority, said his organization has discussed the 1989 receivership law over the past year and welcomed the news that the city itself was thinking of pursuing it.

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