Progressive Cities Can Offer a Helping Hand to Families Facing Foreclosure

Foreclosures and high numbers of underwater homes aren’t making headlines around the country the way they were a couple of years ago, but that doesn’t mean the housing market is back on solid footing – or that people are no longer suffering.

Thousands of families in Seattle are still dealing with the traumatic repercussions of the housing crash – wrecked credit, lost wealth, and relocation. Housing advocates, like Reset Seattle, are working with cities and public agencies to come up with creative ways to help homeowners.

Reset Seattle is asking the City of Seattle to use their power of eminent domain to buy underwater homes at fair market value, and then sell them to the current owners, at the current market price. It’s an innovative idea that just might help someone like Seattle high school teacher Betsy Andrews, who is hanging on to her home by a thread.

Betsy Andrews of Seattle has tried every avenue to try and save her home.

Betsy Andrews of Seattle has tried every avenue to try and save her home.

After being laid off from her job as an English teacher because of budget cuts, she worried that she wouldn’t be able to make the payments. Terrified of losing her house she called banks, worked with supposed-loan modification services, and spent hours and hours on the phone getting the run around. One “specialist” even told her the way to save her home was to “go get a job.”

“It is humiliating,” she recently told a Seattle City Council Committee that is hearing options for helping families facing foreclosure to save their homes.

Finally, after 18 months without work, Andrews is teaching again and sighing with relief that she would be able to keep her house. But within days, she came home to a “Notice of default. Intent to accelerate” notice from the bank on her front door.

“I consider myself well-educated and pretty savvy,” said Andrews. “This has been an absolute nightmare navigating the system. It has affected my health. The reality is, if I lose my home, I will never be in a position to buy a house again.”

Despite the heart-breaking stories, Seattle homeowners like Andrews are unlikely to get help anytime soon from the City of Seattle.

This week, the Interdepartmental Team (IDT) created by the City to review strategies for helping families, including using eminent domain, made its first report to the council committee.

The results were pretty disappointing.

What they presented during a two-hour meeting Wednesday (that you can watch here) was a half-hearted attempt to perform their assignment. They painted a rosy picture of the Seattle housing market that runs drastically counter to what organizers, advocates – and homeowners – are seeing in the community.

What was their alternative solution? More outreach to put people into the federal government’s HARP (Home Affordable Refinance Program) and HAMP (Home Affordable Modification Program). In the past two years, those two programs have helped a mere 125 homeowners in Seattle. They have caused many others unbearable misery.

Reset Seattle invited city council members on a bus tour of homes and communities blighted by foreclosure.

Reset Seattle invited city council members on a bus tour of homes and communities blighted by foreclosure.

“More outreach isn’t going to help people,” said Chris Genese with Washington Community Action Network and Reset Seattle. “Throwing more energy at the same programs that aren’t working – isn’t the answer. We need to do something else.

“I am disheartened the Interdepartmental Team didn’t mention, any real options,” said Genese. “Our interest from the beginning has been finding avenues for principle reduction, to keep families in their homes, and to restore wealth – particularly in communities of color.”

Reset Seattle is open to other creative options. Boston Community Capital bought homes at short sales and auction, then reissued the mortgage to the homeowner at 6.3 percent interest. The program has kept 500 families in their homes so far.  Other cities have implemented other efforts to help homeowners, and protect communities.

While the Seattle’s interdepartmental team didn’t expressly say they were eliminating the eminent domain proposal, they emphasized “significant” legal and logistical barriers that they indicated would outweigh the potential benefit.

Seattle has a reputation as a progressive city. It’s a city built on daring and dreams. It’s a city willing to try something different.

So here’s my advice to Seattle’s interdisciplinary team:  Let’s get creative, let’s be bold, and let’s try this again.

Jason Collette is a national organizer for the Alliance for a Just Society. He specializes in banking issues, especially around foreclosure, payday lending and student debt. Jason@allianceforajustsociety

 

Polling Places on Reservations Would Protect Native’s Right to Vote

photo (9)None of us can afford to take the right to vote for granted – as Native Americans living on reservations in Montana can confirm. On the Fort Belknap, Northern Cheyenne, and Crow reservations, Native Americans who want to vote, or even register to vote, have to travel as much as 180 miles over rough, rural roads to reach county election offices.

The distance and the expense are serious barriers to accessing the ballot box.

Mark Wandering Medicine, a Northern Cheyenne, has filed a lawsuit in Montana calling for satellite voting offices on reservations, a step that will remove the hardship and the barriers that Native Americans face trying vote.

The Northern Cheyenne Tribe reservation in southeastern Montana is one of the most isolated. Traveling to Forsyth, the county seat, means having a vehicle, affording gas, then hours on rugged roads.

“We have a tough time of it really, most people just don’t have the means of going all the way over there,” he said. “It is a real hardship to go, and once we arrive there, we are not treated well. We run into a lot of discrimination. Read more

Speaking Up, Sharing Stories to Stop Police Misconduct

Stop profiling picLisa Haynes was waiting for a bus near her home in Portland, Ore., when two police officers passing in a patrol car stopped and began questioning her. Uncertain of what was happening, or why she was being questioned, she turned to walk away. Within moments, Haynes, 4’10”, was forcefully grabbed, pushed to the ground and was handcuffed. One of the officers had his knee in her back as he cursed at her. She was arrested and shoved inside the patrol car.

Police later said they had mistaken the petite, 40-something African American woman, for a 5’6” male, Hispanic suspect they had been pursuing.  They released the handcuffs and told her to go home.

“All along I had been asking the officers why this was happening to me,” said Haynes. “Alas, I knew the answer: it was because I am black.  No other reason. They treated me like this – violated me like this – because I’m black.”
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Student Debt Threatens the Future for Everyone

overwhelmed_student-300x300A college degree was once an investment in the future, a path to a good job, a home, car, vacation and money set aside to retire some day. But that college education has for many, become a ball and chain limiting future growth. Unless we begin to address this debt issue we will continue to see a growing chasm in American society – those who have access and wealth –  and those who have mortgaged their future with little way to dig themselves out of debt.

Since the Great Recession began, states have dramatically cut their allocations for higher education. Nationwide, higher education budgets have been slashed 27 percent since 2008 or more than $2,300 per student.  We are just now beginning to see the effects on our economy – and the great risk to our future.
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The Penalty for Being Poor – Prison

By Simmi Bagri
Alliance for a Just Society

Imagine being poor. Then imagine that the depth of your poverty is compounded because you committed a minor infraction. You can’t pay your ticket. You go to court and are put under a probation monitoring service – more fees and fines. You can’t afford bus fare, so you walk everywhere. You can’t afford food, so you go hungry.

Then imagine being put in jail because you can’t pay the fines. Your life has been criminalized, and infrastructure that ought to allow you to you to make amends and move forward, traps you. You can’t escape it. Now you can stop imagining, because that is exactly what is happening across the United States today

Earlier this month the Human Rights Watch released a report titled “Profiting From Probation: America’s Offender-Funded Probation Industry,” which describes a probation model that incentivizes private for-profit companies to prey on low-income misdemeanor offenders.
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The Fight for Citizenship and the Right to a Future

The fight for fair and humane immigration reform is about respecting the dignity and humanity of all immigrants across the U.S. It is a fight for family unity. But this fight is also about the evolving definition of citizenship.

CitizenshipCitizenship is a guarantee against deportation; a protection against fear and reprisals. Any immigrant, regardless of status, can be deported – whether they are undocumented, a permanent resident with children who are U.S. citizens, or married to a U.S. citizen. Even a minor mistake on your application for citizenship can jeopardize your status in the country and launch you into deportation proceedings.

Providing a meaningful pathway to citizenship means guaranteeing a predictable route – and a future – for those who want to become citizens. To have citizenship in the U.S. means that you get to be a full human – with full rights. Being a citizen means that you can vote.

So let’s be blunt, voting is the real problem.
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Apply Now: Summer 2014 Public Policy Internships

We are now accepting applications for Alliance summer and fall Public Policy Internships.

An internship with the Alliance is an opportunity to work on social justice issues like income inequality, health care access, and immigration that impact millions. Interns will have the opportunity to work on important, tangible public policy products with immediate impacts.

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