House Bill Seeks to Slow ForeclosuresState House News Service
BOSTON - Beacon Hill leaders sought Thursday to ease the staggering number of mortgage foreclosures filed throughout Massachusetts.
In the House, lawmakers approved what Speaker Salvatore DiMasi's office called "sweeping legislation to address the growing epidemic of mortgage foreclosures in the commonwealth."
The bill, according to the speaker's office, will encourage banks to help borrowers, provide a new three-month window to cure loan defaults, and require new licensing standards for loan originators.
Debate began with Rep. Christopher Fallon, D-Malden, calling the legislation "incredibly flawed" and recommending that it be sent to the Judiciary Committee for further review. Fallon objected to language in the bill that he said would allow mortgage brokers to escape disclosing their identity and the origin of their loans. A section of the bill requires mortgage brokers to disclose their contact information and license number, but adds, "Failure to comply with this section shall not affect the validity of any mortgage."
Financial Services Committee co-Chairman Rep. Ronald Mariano, D-Quincy, offered a defense of the bill, describing it as critical to consumer protection. He said Fallon's argument was "a tad misguided" and failed to account for the realities of the modern marketplace. Because mortgages are sold "over and over and over again," Mariano said, "To say that someone along the line has not filled out the paperwork properly ... might be problematic."
In general, the bill, which was approved 148-3, received plaudits on both sides of the aisle.
"There's a lot of good stuff in this bill," said Rep. George Peterson, R-Grafton. Rep. David Torrisi, D-North Andover, said the bill won't solve widespread foreclosure problems but is a "step in the right direction."
Republican Minority Leader Brad Jones, R-North Reading, said that while the bill would help a "subset" of people, the foreclosure crisis was tied to the high cost of living. He said, for example, that families may need to choose between heating bills in January and keeping up with mortgage payments. He urged House to members temper their "victory laps" after the passage of the bill and to consider other ways to save money for Massachusetts families.
The Senate has already approved its version of the mortgage industry regulation bill and if the branches can't agree to settle difference informally, the bills may be sent to a conference committee for resolution.
As the House began its debate on the mortgage legislation, Gov. Deval Patrick, speaking in Lawrence, announced a five-point plan that he hopes will keep people in their homes and prevent additional foreclosures.
Saying nearly two-thirds of the state's 351 cities and towns have experienced a 50 percent increase in foreclosures, Patrick said the state Department of Housing and Community Development will launch "neighborhood stabilization" pilot programs in Lawrence, Boston, Brockton, New Bedford, Springfield and Worcester.
Under the programs, the department will partner with lenders and nonprofits to reclaim preforeclosure and foreclosed properties that will be sold to qualified first-time homebuyers.
The administration is also calling on lenders to volunteer $5,000 apiece to housing counseling agencies working with individuals who lose their home to pay for first and last month's rent and moving expenses. The plan calls for homeowners seeking to prevent foreclosure to be directed to a "single point of contact" ' NeighborWorks' Center for Foreclosure Solutions (888-995-HOPE). It calls on lenders and servicers to conform to "best practices" when dealing with struggling homeowners. The last portion of the plan speaks to a $250 million foreclosure prevention and alternative financing program announced by Patrick in July that is financed by Fannie Mae and MassHousing.
Patrick's plan relies on lenders to provide the money to assist the homeowners, at a clip of $5,000 apiece for owners of up to four-family homes on adjustable rate mortgages written from 2004 to 2006.
"Those were the years when the underwriting was the most lax," said Daniel Crane, director of the Office of Consumer Affairs. Crane said the program, which would not require legislation or regulations, would be in place "as long as the uptick in foreclosures continues," projecting that it could last into early 2009.
No public funds would be used, said Crane, who had no estimate of the cost to the industry. "If you have a lot of foreclosures, it may be more costly than if you don't," he said.
Earlier this week, Attorney General Martha Coakley got into the act, telling a congressional committee that dual federal and state enforcement of lending laws would help curb ethnic disparities that show a concentration of foreclosures in low-income and minority residential areas. Warning that middle-income and "more tony communities" would likely face foreclosure problems, Coakley warned, "You haven't seen the end of this crisis yet."