By Eric T. Campbell
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — Wayne County Commissioners heard stirring testimony June 13 from dozens of area residents fighting to remain in their homes.
Their pleas were bolstered by attorneys and experts familiar with the depth of devastation wrought by the ongoing foreclosure crisis. The broad coalition turned out for the public meeting held at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center and in support of the Homeowner Protection and Neighborhood Preservation Act.
The act, proposed by Commissioner Martha Scott in April, seeks an immediate moratorium on all foreclosures in Wayne County for one year.
“They’re going to sell my house for $20,000. Why don’t they give me that opportunity?” said a GM retiree who is losing his house of 32 years after several health issues impaired his family. “The mayor doesn’t have to shrink the city. The banks are doing that.”
Citizens shared stories describing the way in which banks and developers profit from completing as many foreclosures as they can. Bank-led foreclosures are the primary cause of declining property values.
Martha Scott’s proposal comes after four years of Detroit activists calling for a two-year moratorium on home foreclosures. The Homeowner Protection Act seeks to place the issue as an advisory question on the Nov. 8 ballot.
It would also initiate investigations into fraudulent practices by banks and other lending institutions. The Wayne County Sheriff’s office has been the focus of legislators seeking redress for homeowners in trouble, because all foreclosure evictions go through that office.
According to RealtyTrac, in the six-month period ending in January, over 10,000 homes in Wayne County received notice of foreclosure auction, averaging more than 400 per week.
Testimony at the hearing also revealed evidence of rampant misconduct by banks and their mortgage arms and a lack of participation in federal home loan modification programs — programs that were tied to the $700 billion bailout banks received through the Economic Stabilization Act of 2008.
Attorney Vanessa Fluker, who is fighting legal sanctions for representing a client on an eviction appeal, cited recent enforcement action by the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department against the top 10 banking organizations for misconduct and negligence related to loan servicing and foreclosure processing.
“The whole foreclosure crisis is predicated on fraudulent practices,” Fluker told Wayne County Commissioners. “Why is this county and our sheriff allowing evictions to proceed based on fraud?”
UAW Director of Civil Rights and Community Services, Miguel Foster, delivered a prepared statement in support of a moratorium on foreclosures. He cited the recent decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals to cease foreclosures initiated by MERS, the Mortgage Electronic Registration System.
Pastor Ed Rowe of Central United Methodist Church said, “It is not reasonable to support illegal activity. It is not reasonable to support driving people out of their homes.”
Orlando Washington, a manager at First Financial Education, a credit debt counseling agency, added, “If we look at the data and see how homeowners have been taken advantage of, I think a moratorium should be seriously considered.”
Commissioner Bernard Parker, chair of the Ways and Means Committee that convened the hearing, told the Michigan Citizen that Scott’s bill will be debated within the office of the Wayne County Chairman before being referred to committee. He expects a vote on the Homeowners Protection and Neighborhood Preservation Act to occur within the next month. If the eight votes needed to move the proposal forward are registered, then the act will appear on the ballot in November, during a special election, or the next countywide election in August 2012.
“We have plenty of time, we’re not rushing it,” Parker said. “We want to make sure it’s all legal.”
At the public hearing, attorney Jerry Goldberg assured the Wayne County Commissioners that “we are prepared to go into court to defend the County, and the people will be there to back you up.”
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin sent a representative to support the bill.
To obtain the full text of the Homeowner Protection and Neighborhood Preservation Act, visit www.peoplebeforebanks.org/thebill.php or call Martha Scott’s office at 313.224.0878.