Yesterday, I was the one to take the call. “Hi, I’m not sure who I need to talk to, but I just found out my house is being foreclosed, and someone told me to call you,” the voice on the other side of the line explained. “Yes, let me transfer you through to Gabe. One moment.”
When Gabe takes these calls, I sometimes hear bits and pieces of the story: the house was sold right from under them, they don’t know when and why this happened, who can help them, or, in the worst cases, where to sleep tonight or move tomorrow. Each time, Gabe takes down all the details—the location of the home, the lender, the timeline of events leading up to foreclosure—and promises to follow up immediately. More often than not, he calls Maren, our organizer with the Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC), and together, they call bankers and lawyers who work with JCA on a case-by-case basis to prevent, or at the very least stall, foreclosures.
I hate how often we take these calls, and how many additional calls, hearings, and trials inevitably follow each one. Foreclosures are terrifying, stressful, and oftentimes unnecessary, and the process of fighting one is daunting, confusing, and all too often unfair. We get calls from people who thought they were working with their lenders to modify their loans, only to learn that their homes were foreclosed anyway. We hear from people who never even knew they were facing foreclosure until it was too late, people who can’t get a straight answer from their lenders’ countless and inconsistent representatives, people who just want to have an affordable mortgage.
But it doesn’t have to be like this. There are ways to stop unnecessary foreclosures, to make the foreclosure process more transparent and democratic, and to make contesting a foreclosure easier and less costly, for both lenders and borrowers. In January 2013, California’s landmark “Homeowner's Bill of Rights” took effect, and right away, foreclosures went down. The state saw a 39.5 percent decrease in foreclosure filings from December 2012 to January 2013, making it the first time since January 2007 that California did not have the largest number of filings in the nation.
The California bill is simple: it prohibits dual tracking (so that banks have to give homeowners a simple “yes” or “no” answer on a loan modification request before proceeding with foreclosure) and requires banks to assign a single point of contact (so that homeowners have access to one person who knows about their loan and is responsible for their documents). These common sense changes have already had a remarkable impact in California, and we know they could do the same in Minnesota, where foreclosure levels are still three times higher than they were before the housing crisis began.
Already this legislative session, in the midst of divisive debates on the state budget and gun violence prevention, Minnesota’s very own proposed Homeowners' Bill of Rights has been making its way through the State Legislature. The bill is modeled after California’s, but would also create a mediation program through which banks and homeowners could discuss alternatives to foreclosure, and would ensure that homeowners could take their banks to court to stop or annul wrongful foreclosures. Last week, Minnesota’s bill was approved by the Housing Finance and Policy Committee in the State House, and in the coming weeks, it will head to more committees in both chambers.
This bill is smart, this bill is important, and this bill deserves to have bipartisan support. So instead of the myriad of calls JCA receives from homeowners facing foreclosure, and the countless calls, hearings, and dead ends that follow, let’s have a new kind of call: a call to action.
To take action on foreclosure prevention, help JCA and Minnesota’s homeowners by:
- Joining us, Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, and ISAIAH for next Wednesday’s Foreclosure Day of Action;
- Calling your legislators, and asking that they support the Homeowners' Bill of Rights (Switchboard: (651)296-2146 or 1(800)657-3550);
- Joining JCA and NCRC for this Sunday’s foreclosure prevention door knock in North Minneapolis.