Saturday, January 28, 2012

Help Turn the Tide of Foreclosures

You probably don’t know Ann Lockwood, who bought a house in Duluth’s East Hillside 17 years ago. In November, when her foreclosure notice was published in the paper, you probably didn’t notice. Why should it matter to you?

Because you know a story like hers, and you are deeply affected by her.

You probably weren’t Ann’s coworker. She was employed in health care in Duluth but suffered a leg injury in 2004, leaving her unemployed and with a prosthesis. Her income dropped 54 percent, and she was no longer able to afford her mortgage.

You know the job-loss numbers, and you know someone who is struggling to make ends meet. You weren’t Ann’s coworker, but you probably worked with her.

You probably don’t live in Ann’s neighborhood, but Ann is your neighbor. There are more than 45 foreclosures on average per month in St. Louis County. With that loss of ownership comes a reduction of real estate value, a loss of tax revenue and a loss of personal wealth.

Local government and local-aid agencies face increased demand for basic services — at the same time budgets are cut. Families are stretched, and homelessness increases in the midst of empty houses. From safety and public works to social resources and food shelves, the same services Ann needs are the same as what your family and neighbors depend.

You’re not too big to fail, and you don’t get a bailout, but you pay the price. When there is no equity and you can’t sell, foreclosure is final. Foreclosure doesn’t want to hear, “I always paid my bills,” or, “I never thought this would happen to me.” Prior membership in the middle class is not a legal defense. Foreclosure doesn’t care whether you had a health problem or a job loss. Foreclosure doesn’t forgive when your fixed income hasn’t kept up with medical, food or gas prices.

Maybe you have a new job, cashed out your retirement to stay afloat, or, like Ann, are working two half-paying jobs and need a second chance. In the absence of a national and uniform policy, a patchwork of hit-or-miss arbitrary lines in the sand might entitle you to a mortgage modification. Or might not. But that is the system we now have. When government and the markets cannot or will not provide a coordinated, uniform and fair solution for our most important social and economic problem, then individuals and their community must step up and make a difference.

Housing and shelter is a human right. Project Save Our Homes is a diverse group of citizens seeking to stop foreclosures through people power and the courage to stand up and help. We recently conducted a petition drive to State Farm Bank, demanding it rewrite Ann’s mortgage loan and stop her foreclosure. Our community responded, State Farm Bank listened and has offered Ann a new mortgage loan with affordable terms.

Together we can stop the five-year tide of foreclosures.

You probably don’t know Ann, but you or someone you know needs help and support in stopping foreclosure. On the evening of Feb. 1, at 7:30 p.m., at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Duluth, please join Project Save Our Homes in a community open discussion about actions that we can take to stop foreclosures in the Northland. We want to hear your ideas, listen to knowledgeable speakers, and offer support and resources.

The article above is reprinted from the Jan. 24 edition of the Duluth News Tribune.  It was written by Peter Greenlee of the Greenlee Law Office in Duluth.

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