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Don't let the bankers delay blight ordinance

If banks had been working diligently to clean up the abandoned houses they own throughout Medford, we'd have a lot more sympathy for the Oregon Bankers Association's complaints about the City Council's efforts to get them to do just that.

The City Council should not let an overheated email from a lawyer sidetrack its efforts to crack down on a persistent problem.

Like many communities, Medford is plagued by abandoned, boarded-up properties that are eyesores in otherwise well-kept neighborhoods and attract squatters and drug users, putting neighbors at risk. The city has drawn up an ordinance designed to force the owners of these properties to fix them up. The proposed rules include a six-month deadline for fixing boarded-up homes.

In an email to the City Council, a Salem attorney representing the Bankers Association criticized the proposed ordinance for defining ownership too broadly. He noted that a local lender might have issued a loan to an individual to buy a Medford home, then immediately sold it on the secondary mortgage market. The local lender no longer has any interest in the property, but could be considered the owner under the city's definition.

Let us pause to shed a tear for the unfortunate lender who now might have to help the city track down the real responsible party. Sounds like an act of good citizenship to us. As would keeping that mortgage local in the first place, although we realize that's an old-fashioned idea.

In fairness, the lawyer may have a legitimate point when it comes to others who might be defined as having an "interest" in a property, such as individuals who are not living in the house but are current on their payments, or are renting a portion of a neglected property. The question is, why are banks suddenly concerned for the welfare of renters?

City records indicate there are an estimated 436 vacant homes in Medford, 415 of them bank-owned. Boarded-up houses, the most noticeable, total 42. Of those, 21 are bank-owned. If the banks really cared about this community and their responsibility as property owners, they would be addressing all 435 of those homes.

The City Council tabled the proposed ordinance last week, and has scheduled a study session for June 30. That's more than a month away, and we hope that's not some sign they are getting weak-kneed. It can't be that difficult to address any legitimate concerns the bankers may have with the definition of "owner." After that, get the ordinance adopted and start holding their feet to the fire.