U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor calls Florida bill to speed up foreclosures not appropriate

02/22/12 Janelle Irwin
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A bill moving through the state legislature would reduce the amount of time it takes lenders to complete foreclosure proceedings. At a press conference at the downtown Tampa Hyatt, U.S. Representative Kathy Castor said it is more important than ever to reach out for help.

The bill would allow lenders to hasten foreclosure proceedings in certain circumstances like homes that have been deemed abandoned. The legislation is in response to Florida’s massive foreclosure backlog that ranks among the worst in the country. It’s being dubbed the Florida Fair Foreclosure Act, but opponents see it as anything but fair.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate to expedite foreclosure and come down so hard on our hardworking neighbors.”

Castor noted problems with the foreclosure process like the lack of sufficient documentation of ownership from banks. But the foreclosure bill addresses that by requiring lenders to file them, including the mortgage note, simultaneously with the initial complaint. Castor said some homeowners just need a little breathing room on their mortgage payments to get back on their feet.

“They want to stay in their home and they’ve made payments year after year, but some circumstance like a lost job or reduced income has hit them hard.”

The slow crawling legal process is what allows many homeowners to avoid foreclosure. Lee Holton owns a home in Tampa. He feared losing the house where is daughter had grown up. But after participating in a federal program called Hardest Hit, Holton isn’t so worried. The program will give him six months of help with his payments, but it took him a long time to get the help.

“I think total, was four and a half to five months and we are in our first month of the program and excited to see what happens in this six-month program.”

That program only applies to homeowners who have suffered a hardship, like the loss of a job, through no fault of their own. But Marquaz McGhee, housing programs manager for the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa, said there are other federal and local programs to help those in different situations.

“What type of assistance is to try to get their payment below 31% in the case of the HAMP, or Home Affordable Modification, is to try to get their payment below 31% of their gross monthly income. But every case is different so you can’t put them all in one box and say ‘you qualify for this’. The best thing to do is to meet with a HUD approved housing counseling agency. There are several in the area where they can sit down and look at your case on an individual basis and see what you may be able to qualify for.”

William Sanchez, the Tampa Bay Community Development Corporation vice president, said there are more options to help homeowners than ever and legislation to limit time for agencies to find programs could stop people from using them.

“The banks are taking so long to decide on the modification. So, the less time we have to work and if the banks continue to take that time that they’re taking it’s going to be a big struggle for us to be able to get any type of resolution. Anything that’s going to hamper our situation right now is going to be hurtful because there’s a lot of people that have need out there. And one of the things that we’ve been relying on is the ability to have the time to be able to work something out. If that time is cut short right now it’s going to give us less ability to do anything and we will see more foreclosures which is something that we don’t want to see.”

And the state bill is also being criticized for side-stepping a federal regulation that prohibits Florida from transitioning to a non-judicial foreclosure state. Marquaz McGhee from the CDC of Tampa said people need to take a stand against this legislation.

“The state of Florida has what is called a judicial foreclosure process and what this legislation may do is change it to a non-judicial foreclosure process like Georgia, Virginia and such. So, that would cut down on the amount of time because the mortgage company does not have to, quote-unquote, sue the homeowner to take back the property.”

Member of Congress Kathy Castor said this is not the time to be putting more weight on already burdened homeowners; even if things are starting to look up.

“The economy is getting better. The unemployment rate is down. The stock market hit a high note yesterday. Small businesses are more confident these days, but we still have a lot of work to do in the Tampa Bay area and all across the country; particularly when it comes to housing.”

Castor encourages homeowners who are behind on mortgage payments, or even those who think they might fall behind soon, to see if there are programs to help. A community event on Friday will allow homeowners to partner with agencies for help as well as speak with lenders about options. It will be at the downtown Tampa Hyatt from 1 in the afternoon until 8 in the evening. Details about what documents to bring to find help can be found on the website, MakingHomeAffordable.gov.

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