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St. Petersburg City Council looks to create foreclosure registry

ST. PETERSBURG — With the worst of the housing crisis in the rearview mirror, St. Petersburg city leaders are looking to start a foreclosure registry.

Supporters say the registry could help the city track thousands of homes with overgrown weeds, broken windows and muck-filled pools. Banks would have to provide contact information for a property manager in case the homes fall into disrepair and draw code violations.

Within 10 days of filing a foreclosure notice, lenders also would have to pay $125 to register a property with the city. The council will vote Sept. 20 on the ordinance.

Several council members said they support the registry and called caring for abandoned homes a waste of taxpayer money.

"The banks are derelict in not maintaining these properties," council member Wengay Newton said at a recent housing committee meeting.

Council member Karl Nurse, who has worked with city staffers for months on the registry, said the ordinance will give the city's code compliance officers someone to call to get a lawn mowed or a home secured.

Such registries aren't new to Florida.

Cities across the state formed them in 2009 and 2010 during the initial foreclosure onslaught. Treasure Island adopted one in 2008. Hillsborough County, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Coral Springs followed in 2009; Pasco, 2010.

Officials have lauded the registries for helping control blight.

Not everyone agrees.

Brian Shuford, a lobbyist for the Pinellas Realtor Organization, doesn't think the city needs a registry since the city already has information on who owns the property. That information doesn't include the name of a property manager.

Shuford contends the registry is unnecessary because only 8 percent of the 3,699 active foreclosures have been cited for code violations. He fears homeowners could be stuck paying the $125 fee since banks typically file the notices while allowing owners to pursue short sales.

"People still live in the homes and maintain them," Shuford said.

If the registry already was in place, the city would have collected $462,000 in filing fees from the 3,699 active cases.

"Is this a new tax or a way just to cover costs?" Shuford said. "It's overkill."

It's not the first time a registry has come before the St. Petersburg City Council.

Foreclosure prevention was a top platform in Nurse's council campaign in 2009.

In keeping with his election promises, Nurse sought to pass a registry in February 2010. He said the registry was a tool needed to combat a crisis.

He dropped the issue after speaking with one of his top campaign supporters the night before the council took up the matter. Nurse told fellow members he had spoken with Shuford, who informed him the city already was tracking the needed information.

The other council members didn't object, and the item was removed with little discussion.

Now, Nurse says he regrets dropping the registry idea in 2010 since many neighborhoods remain saturated with nuisance homes.

"It has not gotten any better," he said Wednesday. "The banks were not doing their part to maintain these homes."

Foreclosures, as expected, have climbed across the Tampa Bay area in recent months.

This year, the country's biggest lenders reached a settlement with federal and state governments over fraudulent documents used to seize homes.

Thousands of properties sat in limbo after the fraudulent practice surfaced in 2010. The cases are now moving through the courts.

Still, real estate experts and economists do not expect bay area foreclosures to match the filings from the peak of the housing crisis.

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

St. Petersburg City Council looks to create foreclosure registry 09/15/12 [Last modified: Saturday, September 15, 2012 4:31am]

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