Saturday, January 17, 2009

Struggle heats up to stop foreclosures

Struggle heats up to stop foreclosures

By Kris Hamel

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Activists with the Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures and Evictions are stepping up their struggle for a moratorium on foreclosures, evictions, utility shutoffs and plant closings. At a Jan. 10 coalition meeting, organizers announced plans for a demonstration at the State Capitol in Lansing on Feb. 3 when Gov. Jennifer Granholm delivers her annual State of the State address.

Michigan has been in a state of severe economic depression for the last decade. The state has lost half a million, mostly union, industrial jobs over the last five years. The House Fiscal Agency is forecasting the loss of another 258,000 jobs in the next two years. (Detroit Free Press, Jan. 7)

With the official unemployment rate at 9.6 percent, the highest in the U.S., Michigan residents will face increased foreclosures as more workers lose their incomes and as adjustable rate mortgages reset this year.

In 2006-07 more than 72,000 homeowners in the metro Detroit area alone went into foreclosure. Many thousands more lost their homes in 2008. Eighteen percent of Detroit’s homes are vacant and abandoned, second only to New Orleans. The 36th District Court in Detroit is the busiest eviction court in the country.

Foreclosures are destroying entire communities as vacant and stripped homes depress property values and make Michigan’s cities look like they’ve been hit by a hurricane. The average value of homes sold after foreclosure and eviction is approximately $5,000. Homeowners have seen the property value of their homes reduced to levels not seen in 30 or 40 years.

Stop legislative attacks on homeowners!

The Feb. 3 demonstration is especially critical in light of the recent attempt by Granholm and the state legislature to significantly reduce the redemption period for homeowners in foreclosure. A six-month redemption period has been in effect in Michigan since 1965. This is the time during which homeowners may buy back their homes for the total amount owing on their mortgages before being evicted.

At the urging of the governor, legislators met with the Michigan Poverty Law Center–supposedly an advocacy group for poor people–and the Michigan Bankers Association and came up with legislation that would actually worsen the situation for workers and poor people facing foreclosure by reducing the redemption period by up to three months.

What started out as an attempt to mandate minimal foreclosure notice requirements by lenders to homeowners ended up with concessions to the banks. Senate Bill 1666 placed the burden solely on borrowers to contact a counselor within 21 days to begin loan modification negotiations or else face a much shortened period before being tossed out of their homes by the banks.

In reality it is almost impossible for the average homeowner to successfully communicate and negotiate with her/his mortgage lender. Most banks and lenders, even when mandated by law to modify loans to help homeowners avoid foreclosure, have laid off workers and reduced personnel so much that often there’s no one to even answer the telephones.

There is no effective mechanism in place to help borrowers. Experienced attorneys have had to download federal Securities and Exchange Commission documents in order to obtain phone numbers of banking officials who are in a position to modify loans. The average person doesn’t have the resources and technology necessary to hunt down a banker.

Marilyn Mullane, an attorney at Michigan Legal Services which represents people in foreclosure, got wind of the secret bill before it went to a vote in late December and sent thousands of emails to alert community organizers about the outrageous situation unfolding in Lansing.

Emails and phone calls to legislators and the governor’s office stopped passage of this anti-homeowner law. But the banks and the politicians in their pockets have vowed to bring back an equally reactionary bill.

Granholm and the legislature oppose SB 1306, a two-year foreclosure moratorium bill introduced in 2008 by State Sen. Hansen Clarke. The governor has publicly stated her opposition to a two-year moratorium and said that any measures to give relief to the people must also “satisfy” the banks and mortgage lenders.

Press for moratorium, other demands

Coalition organizers continue to mobilize statewide to demand Gov. Granholm use her executive authority to declare a state of economic emergency in Michigan and impose a two-year moratorium on all foreclosures and evictions. They continue to demand the legislature pass SB 1306 mandating a two-year moratorium.

The Feb. 3 demonstration will bring together moratorium activists and others who want to protest the ongoing economic attacks on workers and the poor. Coalition literature demands, “Bail out the people!” and asks the pointed question, “Which side are you on?”

Utility shutoffs, budget cuts, school cutbacks and closings, plant closings, layoffs and other issues will be addressed. People with grievances and demands for the governor and state legislature are urged to make their voices heard in Lansing on Feb. 3.

For more information contact the Moratorium NOW! Coalition at 313-887-4344 or visit Donations to help in this work can be sent to the coalition office at 23 E. Adams, 4th Floor, Detroit, MI 48226.

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