How providing water service to homeowners in dispute with lenders fights blight in the Community
Like many Oregonians in this economy homeowner Alicia Jackson fell into foreclosure after she lost her job at the City of Portland and had trouble making her mortgage. She contacted the bank but they refused to work with her and instead moved to foreclose on her home. She tried to get a modification that would work with her limited income. But unfortunately, after receiving threatening letters, phone calls and house visits she was intimidated out of her home before she pursued every option.
Alicia, a Gulf War veteran, was no stranger to fighting and after attending community meetings, with other people in the neighborhood who were currently battling the banks over their homes, she realized that she was not alone and had the support of her community. Alicia decided to move back in and fight for her home.
Alicia Jackson has tried multiple times to turn the water on in her name. Alicia is currently disputing the ownership of her home through the courts and Fox Capital is not cooperating with the City or Alicia. Fox Capital has refused to turn on the water. Unfortunately, the Water Bureau has used a definition of the owner of a property as the person listed by the County Assessor in the tax records. However, City Code also defines “owner” to include persons with an equitable interest in a property.[i] The City could recognize Alicia’s claim in the dispute as sufficient to justify remedying the lack of water and preventing the house becoming a blight property.
Homeowners who are disputing the ownership of their home have limited recourse to take care of their homes. Alicia Jackson has been willing to pay for overdue water bills and recently attended a hearing with a City Hearings Officer on September 6th, 2012, over the water issue. Fox Capital did not attend the hearing and Alicia was able to testify and keep the home from being boarded up by the City.
Homeowners in Crisis
In a disturbing trend, many banks are seizing homes and selling them at auction even while there are pending complaints against their foreclosure process. During the height of the housing bubble banks bought and sold mortgages to one another at an alarming rate and it is difficult to actually prove who owns a home. Banks are now fast-tracking foreclosures, intimidating people out of their homes and trying to take their property before the homeowners can fully challenge the process.
The housing crisis has hit communities of color the hardest. Borrowers of color have been more than twice as likely as white borrowers to lose their homes in the crisis.[ii] Alicia was one of the last remaining black homeowners in NE Portland. She was also the target of a predatory loan and her home was foreclosed in a proceeding that relied on the Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS), whose legality in Oregon is under question.[iii] Under Portland City policy against discrimination, the City should support homeowners and Portlanders who have fallen prey to banks’ racially discriminatory practices, which have been a catalyst for the widespread foreclosures in the area.[iv] .
Fighting for her home with the help of the community
After checking her documents and determining that her foreclosure was illegal under Oregon law, and finding her home abandoned by Fox Capital and falling into disrepair, Alicia decided to move back in and fight for her home. On May 1st a coalition of homeowners, neighbors and organizations such as The Black Working Group, We Are Oregon, SEIU and Portland Liberation Organizing Council brought out 500 supporters to move Alicia back into her home.
The Big Banks and Developers
Instead of working with homeowners, banks like Wells Fargo, which was a previous owner of Alicia’s mortgage, have extended lines of credit to developers like Fox Capital who scare homeowners out of their homes for redevelopment. Alicia is not alone. Many homeowners who are in foreclosure reached out to the banks and instead of help they were fast tracked into foreclosure through bad loan modifications that expedite the foreclosure process.
Fox Capital has proven to be a nuisance for the community. They left Alicia’s home fall into disrepair for 7 months. They have not attended any community hearings where they are named and have skirted their responsibilities. Meanwhile, Alicia Jackson continues to take responsibility by maintaining and repairing her home and paying the bills.
Supporting Homeowners Mitigates Blight
Before Alicia moved back into her home the house was left empty causing blight in the neighborhood. In fact, Alicia’s home could have been defined as chronically derelict under the City Code. It was left empty and in disrepair by Fox Capital for over 6 months with no water service since January 2012.[v] When Alicia moved in on May 1st, 2012 she and community supporters cleaned the house and yard and made necessary repairs on the home. The home is currently occupied Alicia who is maintaining it.
Vacating and Boarding the Property Will Create Blight
Alicia is not the only party that will be affected by vacating and boarding up her home. Neighbors will have to contend with a boarded structure. Fox Capital has proven to be absent in maintaining the home letting it fall into disrepair and bringing down property values in the area. If Fox Capital had boarded up the empty house, it would be in violation of City Code.[vi] Enforcement of a vacate order by the City would perversely have the same result. It would punish Alicia Jackson and her neighbors while rewarding Fox Capital’s neglect of the property. By recognizing Alicia as a party with an equitable interest who is disputing a wrongful claim to her home, and turning on the water, the City will avoid further blighting the NE neighborhood. Alicia has stated repeatedly and on record that she does not intend to leave and will maintain the home. Fox Capital has made no such claim.
[ii] Lost Ground 2011: Disparities in Mortgages and Foreclosures, Center for Responsible Lending (Nov 2011), p. 3. http://www.responsiblelending.org/mortgage-lending/research-analysis/Lost-Ground-2011.pdf
[iv] Portland City Code, Chapter 23 Civil Rights, esp. sections 23.01.010 Policy, 23.01.020 Intent and 23.01.100 Construction, which find discrimination including in housing “a threat to the health, safety and general welfare of the citizens of Portland [that] menaces the institutions and foundation of our community,” and state that “This Chapter shall be broadly construed, consistent with its remedial purpose.” http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=28187