Isn’t there some way to stop the tide of evictions ravaging low-income neighborhoods?
ASK THIS | December 06, 2010
The organizers of a Harvard project that is helping people stay in their homes after foreclosure suggest questions reporters should be asking about ways to stop banks from destroying lives and communities.
By Dan Froomkin
No One Leaves. That’s the rallying cry -- and the name -- of a project run by Harvard Law School’s Legal Aid Bureau dedicated to helping homeowners and tenants stay in their homes despite foreclosure.
Banks prefer to sell empty properties, but mass evictions have a devastating effect not just on families, but on entire communities as empty homes lead to urban blight and crashing property values.
So Project No One Leaves has mobilized hundreds of college and law students with the goal of reaching every person in Boston whose home has been foreclosed on, informing them of their legal rights and helping them fight back against the banks that would throw them out on the street.
The judicial system is supposed to give homeowners a fair chance, but the reality in this country is that most poor people have such limited access to legal counsel that when it comes to the foreclosure process, the banks almost always get their way. This was made particularly obvious when news broke that banks were routinely being allowed to force people out of their homes despite the absence of original, “wet ink” documentation.
Project No One Leaves’s goal is to make it very, very hard for banks to evict tenants after foreclosure. Tactics include filing lawsuits, pressuring banks to sell foreclosed-on properties back to residents at their current value, holding eviction blockades and drafting legislation. Members will even move families back into properties they’ve been kicked out of. It’s a model that is spreading to other cities.
I asked outreach director Sam Levine what questions reporters should be asking in their communities, and nationally, about ways to keep people in their homes. Here are the suggestions he gathered from the project’s board members:
Q. Are banks in your community evicting former owners or allowing them to stay as tenants? Are they evicting tenants whose landlords were foreclosed on?
Q. What is happening to the stock of houses that is being foreclosed on?
Q. How has foreclosure affected property values and funding for schools, police, etc.?
Q. Are cities that take properties in tax sales selling them back to nonprofits or letting them stay vacant?
Q. What happens to the people who are being displaced by foreclosure? Can they stay in the community? Do their children need to change schools?
Q. Many municipalities are being hit hard by the foreclosure crisis from two sides: foreclosure is destroying their tax base as well as hitting their employee pension funds, which are often invested in mortgage-backed securities. Could pension funds exert pressure on servicers to reduce principal and keep people in their homes, thus helping to protect their investments as well as their communities?
Q. Can local government put pressure on banks to change their foreclosure practices through contracting and through their own deposits?
Q. How are your cities and Community Development Corporations using their federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program grants? Are they using the money to help current homeowners and tenants stay in their homes? Or are they advancing gentrification plans, by tearing down abandoned homes and making way for condo developers and the like?
Q. Why is Fannie Mae, a government entity, pushing foreclosures, and Treasury, another government entity, trying to prevent them?
Q. Are accounting rules that encourage banks to hold onto properties rather than selling them at a reduced price slowing down a recovery?
Q. It's clear that HAMP, President Obama’s signature foreclosure-prevention program, isn't helping enough borrowers, but to what extent is HAMP hurting borrowers if they're making trial payments that won't result in a permanent modification?
Q. How do the servicers' interests align (or not align) with the interests of the mortgage-holders?