Dozens of properties in Glenwood — a Greensboro neighborhood renowned for affordability, ethnic diversity and proximity to UNCG — are under foreclosure because of tax delinquency. Bulent Bediz, the owner of the properties, has been a thorn in his neighbors’ side, but they fear that things could get worse.
In the mind of Bulent Bediz, he’s a humble visionary motivated by a love of Glenwood whose plan to revitalize the neighborhood was sabotaged by feckless city staffers and betrayed by UNCG administrators as the university undertook a dramatic expansion south of Gate City Boulevard.
But Bediz’s neighbors see a negligent property owner who has allowed his houses to fall into disrepair while dragging down the value of their homes, someone who suddenly halts repairs and buys up new properties, while facing mounting costs from city code violations and delinquent taxes. Maddened by the seeming inexplicability of his actions, many of the neighbors wish Bediz would just go away, but now that his entire remaining portfolio of 35 properties is under foreclosure they also worry about the uncertainty of what comes next. Meanwhile, Bediz is vowing that he will be vindicated through a complex, multi-part lawsuit against the city and says he’ll find a way to hang on to the properties.
“My name has been dragged out in the gutter,” said Bediz, a portrait artist-turned rental housing provider who started buying properties in Glenwood in the mid-1990s. “Everybody has been saying I’m a capitalist. Making money is far from my ideal. I started this thing with truly altruistic ideals. I saw what a jewel this neighborhood was. I saw how it was being downgraded and brought into ruin by the city’s neglect.”
Kristin Cooper, who moved to Glenwood in early 2016 with her husband, almost immediately butted heads with Bediz over driveway access. The house she and her husband bought on Haywood Street is next door to one of Bediz’s properties. She said she had to bring in an exterminator on a monthly basis because of wasps from Bediz’s vacant house next door. The house, on a property subject to numerous code violations by the city, was recently demolished.
“He’s singularly the biggest blight we have,” Cooper said. “He single-handedly has changed a single block into a wasteland.
“Why do we have to suffer — those of us who pay our taxes and get up every morning and bust our butts and go to work to pay our mortgages and maintain our properties?” she asked. “We in the neighborhood have to suffer. We’re at his mercy, which is enraging.”
A map of foreclosures initiated by the Guilford County Tax Department for delinquencies shows a solid mass of red dots representing active foreclosures at the north end of Glenwood. In contrast, the map shows only one tax delinquency foreclosure in the Piedmont Heights neighborhood to the west and none in Warnersville to the east. Virtually all of the Glenwood properties under foreclosure because of tax delinquency are owned by Bediz or Nellie J Jones LLC, a company he controls. An analysis by Triad City Beat found that Bediz owes $151,853 in back taxes on the 35 properties in his portfolio, which is cumulatively valued at $1.2 million. Of the $151,853 tax bill, $10,909 is due to attorney fees imposed by the county.
“We have turned everything over to an outside contract attorney,” Assistant Tax Collector Jim Roland said. “They are proceeding with a mortgage-style foreclosure. We sent several parcels to them in March. We sent the remainder in April.”
Considering the time required for the lawyer to conduct a title search to uncover any liens and judgments against the properties, serve papers on Bediz, advertise the sale in the newspaper and hold hearings, Roland said it’s likely to be at least six months before the properties are sold, and it could take years.
Bediz reacted with surprise when informed by TCB that 35 properties — his entire portfolio — were in active foreclosure.
“That many?” he said. “I wasn’t aware of that. I need to check into that.”
After digressing into his grievances against the city and UNCG, Bediz indicated that he expects to ride out the foreclosure challenge.
“I’m not denying that I owe the taxes,” he said. “I’ll find a way to reason with [the county]. They are not going to foreclosure right now. There’s a certain process that’s being followed.”
Bediz will have the opportunity, like anybody else, to bid on the properties, and Bediz has bought his own properties out of foreclosure before. If no one bids on the properties, the city of Greensboro will assume control through an inter-local agreement and have the opportunity to resell them at fair market value.
With the exception of a commercial building at the north end of Lexington Avenue, Bediz’s 35 properties are all single-family homes or vacant lots. Eighty percent of the properties are zoned RM-12, a multi-family classification that allows for 12 units per acre. Many of the properties, which are contiguous, flank the back side of the Spartan Village development that has sprung up along Gate City Boulevard over the past five years.
Jeff Sovich, a senior planner with the city of Greensboro, said although single-family homes predominate in the area, the multi-family zoning classification has been in place since at least 1992 and reflects “the level of residential density that was in place at that time” with a significant number of the houses being subdivided into apartments. Sovich confirmed that a developer could potentially buy several of Bediz’s properties out of foreclosure, combine lots and build apartments.
Cooper indicated she was surprised to learn that the houses on Haywood Street, including her own, are already classified as multifamily, and could be converted into apartments without a rezoning.
“Over my dead body,” she said. “I will fight that with everything I have. If any developer thinks they can come in and build apartments, we’re going to fight them tooth and nail.”
Whatever happens to Bediz’s properties, his neighbors are bracing for a blow to their home values. They’ve already seen the prequel to this movie.
By 2007, Bediz had assembled 70 properties in Glenwood, while harboring a vision of creating a mixed-use development integrating retail, residential, office and institutional uses that would be connected to a walkable neighborhood of historic, single-family homes.
“As the parameters of the project grew, however, I had two major interrelated failings, on my part: inability to acknowledge the necessity to adjust to this change in scope and delegate responsibility to others, and the other was my inability to raise sufficient working capital,” Bediz wrote in a 2008 piece of writing.
By the middle of 2007, he wrote, the project was beginning to look like “a house of cards,” and in 2008 he was forced to declare bankruptcy.
Meanwhile, as the recession hit, UNCG took advantage of low interest rates and falling property values to leap across Lee Street (now Gate City Boulevard) and expand into the north side of Glenwood.
“I don’t know if people realize this, but every time Bulent loses 10 properties, all the property values in the area go down,” said Michael Driver, a realtor who represents sellers in Glenwood and owns three rental properties in the neighborhood. “All the houses are in disrepair, and they go for rock-bottom prices.”
Yet rather than cut his losses, Bediz instead seems intent on doubling down on his misfortunes.
“During the downturn, there were 15 or 20 of Bulent’s properties that went into foreclosure,” Driver said. “He managed to come out with about half of them. He was the master of coming up with money to come out of trouble. I don’t know where he gets his funds. He was buying them back for less than what he owed on them. He would buy a house and start renovations, and then stop and buy another house.”
Discussing Bediz’s business decisions with him can feel like stumbling blindfolded through a labyrinth of prevarications or misunderstandings.
When asked why he has continued to buy houses when he can’t afford to pay taxes and make repairs to what he already owned, Bediz said he didn’t purchase the houses, but rather obtained them through a swap with UNCG.
“The only way I could get any funding to fix up the houses was to invest in cars,” he said. “The banks would not let me use my houses as collateral.”
He acquired 55 junk cars with the intention of hiring a mechanic to fix them up for resale, but he said an arrangement to lease a garage free of charge from UNCG fell through. He ended parking the cars behind his rental houses, which led to complaints from neighbors and a drawn-out code enforcement battle with the city. To this day, he said, he hasn’t sold a single car.
Despite Bediz’s initial claim that he hasn’t purchased any additional property since his 2008 bankruptcy, tax records for 23 properties acquired since December 2009 indicate that at least seven were acquired through cash transactions with unrelated individuals, or in one case through a bank foreclosure. Nine transactions involved properties previously held by Bediz that he purchased out of foreclosure, two were acquired from his son, David, and one came from Capital Facilities Foundation, a company set up by UNCG.
When confronted with the evidence of his post-2008 property purchases, Bediz said, “I borrowed money. I have a lot of friends who see how I’ve been screwed. Without their help, I wouldn’t be on my feet.”
As justification for the expenditures, he said, “I was after properties that I could turn into income-producing properties…. If I can show in my asset column I have these properties, I will be able to go to the bank to get money.”
The city of Greensboro has attempted to play matchmaker between Bediz and a potential buyer.
“A number of those properties have orders to demolish,” said Cynthia Blue, the city’s manager of housing services. “They’re on a list of distressed properties that we send out to investors or investor groups. We have heard from a number of them that Mr. Bediz is not interested in selling.”
Bediz said he met a couple weeks ago with Dawn Chaney, an investor with substantial rental holdings in Greensboro. Even though he’s “in a really tight spot,” Bediz said he couldn’t agree to the price Chaney offered him.
“People see I have these houses under demolition orders,” he said. “They are offering me nothing. I cannot sell these houses and stand on my feet.”
The original version of this article misstated the total amount of back taxes owned by Bediz. The error has been corrected.