Last week, on the same day that the Minnesota legislature held its public hearing on whether the Minnesota Vikings football team should have a new stadium built with the help of public funds, a housing hearing of another type was being held. This one dealt with the very real problem of the foreclosure crisis.
However unlike the stadium hearing, the hearing on the bill to institute a two-year moratorium on foreclosures was given no formal approval by GOP leadership, forcing the sponsoring legislators, State Representative Karen Clark (DFL-Minneapolis) and State Senator Scott Dibble (DFL- Minneapolis), along with the People’s Bailout Coalition, to hold a “People’s Hearing.”
“For the past few years, so many of our community members have faced devastation from the terrible effects of our unstable housing market — the foreclosure of their homes,” said State Representative Clark at a March 15 press conference announcing a bill seeking a two-year moratorium on foreclosures in the state. Clark said she wanted to give those struggling a chance “to tell their story, a story unfortunately that is too familiar for so many around the state.”
The bill sponsored by Clark and Dibble, HF 1886/SF 1521, seeks to freeze for two years foreclosures of owner-occupied properties. During this moratorium, homeowners would be required to continue their current mortgage payments or pay 41 percent of their incomes, whichever is less.
The bill would also allow renters to stay in their homes should those who own the property face foreclosure. Renters would be required to pay a fair market rent to the current owner for two years after the bill takes effect.
Clarke, Dibble and others were forced to hold a “People’s Hearing” after being denied the opportunity to hold a formal hearing. The GOP leadership apparently decided to play politics with the bill. The GOP’s intransigence is hard to explain in light of the fact that the foreclosure crisis has wreaked havoc on Minnesotans of all political persuasions.
“It is a shame that we have not been granted a formal committee hearing,” Clarke said. She had also been informed before the hearing that it would not be televised. Nevertheless, the hearing did take place, the proverbial tree did fall, and it was indeed heard.
Several legislators testified at the “People’s Hearing,” and several homeowners came forward to describe the devastation that going through the foreclosure process had wrought on themselves and their families. It was heartbreaking, yet at times encouraging as well as activists encouraged the legislators to pursue this issue with zeal and vigor.
The idea of a moratorium on foreclosures is not new. The State of Minnesota passed a foreclosure moratorium bill in the middle of the Great Depression, giving mortgage holders who had fallen behind a chance to lengthen their debt obligations. The Minnesota law was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1934.
And as State Senator Jeff Hayden pointed out, the crisis is not just an urban crisis. Hayden stated at the press conference that though most of the supporters of the bill are considered urbanites, the problem with foreclosures is not limited to the inner city.
Clearly something is amiss. This crisis has been acknowledged as such by everyone in the know, politicians and average Joe and Jane alike. Therefore, it raises the question that if Minnesotans are struggling with the foreclosure crisis, why aren’t more elected officials concerned enough to support a formal hearing?
Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.