Grace Ross: Foreclosure Crisis No Where Near Over
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Initially, this crisis was expected to last five years. A report just released by the National Consumer Law Center that’s says we’re not even halfway through. Unless we can change the laws and get real action – decisive and uncompromising – from the various powers that be, we can expect more than twice as many foreclosures still to come.
For Massachusetts – one of the harder hit states – we’ve seen 45,000 foreclosures by the end of 2011. With no decisive action, we will see over 100,000 more before the end of the crisis.
Not to say that people aren’t doing fabulous work. We look at the outreach and organizing efforts of organizations like the Worcester Anti Foreclosure Team in Worcester (WAFT). We look at the actions driven partly by WAFT, but also other Worcesterites to make sure that we passed the strongest Vacant/Foreclosing Ordinance in the country; by January of this year after much work, it has netted the city $1.25M from banks to pay for whatever is needed on the numerous local foreclosed homes.
Still much of the work is ahead of us. Not just the devastation of our neighborhoods and empty homes around us underscore the seriousness of the issue.
The Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team (WAFT), along with other groups statewide, works not only locally door knocking and making sure more people learn their rights before they give up and end up either kicked or scared out of their home. WAFT has been working with the statewide organization, the Mass Alliance Against Predatory Lending to change state policy as well as bringing important ordinances to Worcester city leaders.
More and more frequently now people who get engaged and fight for their rights are being able to stay in their homes for longer periods of time through local action in the streets and serious support for advocacy in the courts. The city has gotten some money to try to rehab houses and continues to work hard and diligently on receivership models that are protecting other people.
Throughout the state, the most critical lesson for people who may be facing a foreclosure or living in a foreclosed building need to know: DO NOT LEAVE. They have rights. FIRST, finding out all the things you can do with support to turn the situation around.
Even as we together start being able to protect people in their homes, horrible stories turn up of devastation of peoples lives through all-too-common illegal actions.
The call came late Thursday afternoon. Devastated, they had gone by the house like they did every other day even when they didn’t stay there. A big moving truck was in front of their home. The moving crew informed them they were finishing filling the 5th load of their possessions which were being summarily dumped in the Leominster dump. Not only were there numerous illegalities in the foreclosure of the home, here was the most devastating moment.
The post-foreclosure bank-owner had been so absentee that they didn’t even have keys. They had broken in through the doors and windows. They had come when Jackie’s son had already left the house Wednesday morning; by Thursday afternoon they had devastated more than one lifetime’s worth of possessions and the hope of a family to hold onto their home. Although the family had done everything legally, the eviction of all of their possessions and memories certainly didn’t past muster.
By law, in Massachusetts, a foreclosure may take away your ownership of a home (that act can be fought in court and potentially overturned). Massachusetts, unique to all the states, requires that the eviction process happen through court – it’s separate from whether you still hold title to the property or not. The new bank-owner becomes your landlord by law and must follow at least some legal requirements of a landlord. They have to keep the place habitable; they absolutely have to take you to court before they can evict you.
Conveniently, the banks are ignoring this and claiming that if they send somebody by once in a while and no one is at the home, then the place has been abandoned.
On top of bankers admitting in papers nationwide to millions of fraudulent signing of papers and court proceedings, now they show up in illegal acts far more physical and blatant in our own communities. The devastating fear created by this uncertainty of losing your home and belongings unexpectedly is driving people not only out of their homes, but to the hospital. Like a heart attack when an elderly WAFT member received another – incorrect – notice from the bank that she’d been denied her loan modification.
This battle is unfortunately still not halfway through. It’s going to take real guts and real leadership whether it’s from our neighbors standing on our lawns and refusing to let the banks take our homes or our elected officials really paying attention to the lives of regular people and devastation that is simply unacceptable.
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