Legislation would aid some 12,000 Minnesotans facing foreclosure

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The foreclosure clock is ticking, Governor Pawlenty. That’s the message housing activists brought to the Capitol steps Monday, when they kicked off a weeklong series of high-profile actions to pressure lawmakers – and Pawlenty, in particular – into swiftly passing the Subprime Foreclosure Deferment Act.

The measure, supporters say, will save an estimated 12,000 Minnesota families from losing their homes. In 2007, a state-record 13,050 homes were repossessed in sheriff’s auctions.

For more details on the foreclosure deferment plan, see the Minnesota Monitor interview of Prentiss Cox.

“We’ve calculated that one Minnesota family loses their home to foreclosure every 15 minutes at the current rate,” said Paul Satriano, state board treasurer of ACORN, the Twin Cities Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. “This is a crisis and we need to start treating it like one.”

To convey that sense of urgency, ACORN activist Karen Inman, a resident of St. Paul’s Frogtown neighborhood, unveiled a “foreclosure countdown clock,” which will tick upwards every 15 minutes, symbolically adding a family to the growing number of foreclosure victims, until the deferment bill becomes law.

“This is not just a St. Paul-Minneapolis problem,” Inman said. “Twelve thousand people will be foreclosed upon. That’s like shutting down Willmar, shutting down the whole city. Is that a good-neighbor policy?”

Not a bailout

The Subprime Foreclosure Deferment Act, co-sponsored by Rep. Jim Davnie of Minneapolis and Sen. Ellen Anderson of St. Paul, would allow a homeowner whose loan is in default and whose home is scheduled for sheriff’s sale to send an affidavit of deferment to the lender, suspending the foreclosure process.

The deferment would be available only to homeowners who entered into subprime or negative amortization loans, in which a borrower’s payments amount to less than the accrued interest on the loan. Homeowners who receive a deferment would be required to continue living in the home during the deferment period.

Supporters of the legislation say deferment will stabilize communities, protect public safety and shield the real estate market from oversaturation.

“We all take care of each other” in Frogtown, Inman said. “But if these people are gone, who’s going to be left to take care of each other?”

Moreover, supporters stress that the deferment plan is not a bailout. Rather, qualifying homeowners would be required to continue payments to the lender, making either the minimum monthly payment on the date the loan originated or 65 percent of the minimum monthly payment at the time the borrower defaulted.

“Congress and other private, public, and non-profit sectors are working to develop new responses to this evolving crisis, but those measures will take some time to come together,” Davnie said. “Most homeowners want to do the right thing. This proposal buys them some time so they can figure out how to do it.”

‘Set up to fail’

Bringing the mortgage foreclosure clock to the Capitol steps Monday was just the first in a series of actions ACORN planned to spread the word that families facing foreclosure deserve a fair chance to keep their homes.

The organization plans Capitol vigils throughout the week. And on Saturday, if Pawlenty has not yet reversed his opposition to the bill, ACORN has pledged to bring “Subprime City” to the Governor’s Mansion, with more than 100 families facing foreclosure setting up tents, cardboard boxes, sleeping bags and blankets on the grounds surrounding the Summit Avenue landmark.

Families feel passionate about the issue of foreclosure because so many were “set up to fail” by predatory lenders peddling adjustable-rate, subprime mortgages, ACORN organizer Vera Ashley said. “People didn’t realize they were making the choices they were making.”

Ashley, who lives and works in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul, acknowledged that some homeowners facing foreclosure took loans irresponsibly, without intention of paying them back. But those cases are exceptions to the rule.

“I’d say about 80 percent of these people did have good intentions,” she said. “They figured, ‘I can handle $200 or $300 more on my monthly payments or my home mortgage.’ But they didn’t realize that it was only going to be a few months before it went up another $200 or $300.”

Donna Evans, a Minneapolis resident who lost her home 15 months ago, said the government must level the playing field between well-financed, powerful lending companies and homeowners on the brink, who often lack an advocate during foreclosure proceedings.

“I’ve walked that walk. I know what homeowners are going through,” Evans said. “Our governor needs to look at what’s really being done by mortgage companies that scammed our homeowners.”

Evans said lawmakers need to send a clear message to lenders: “We’re willing to negotiate with you, but we’re not willing to let you rip off the people of our state.”

Michael Moore edits The Union Advocate, the official publication of the St. Paul Trades & Labor Assembly. Visit the Assembly’s website at www.stpaulunions.org

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