Lawmakers seek to end foreclosure abuse

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Rep. Mike Freiberg lives three blocks away from Rose McGee in Golden Valley and was aware of his neighbor’s plight.

“I feel like it’s taken on a life of its own, which is wonderful,” Freiberg said of his legislation to assist those confronting home foreclosure.

Rep. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, speaks at a Capitol press conference Wednesday (Jan. 16) during a rollout of his foreclosure legislation. (Photo by T.W. Budig)
Rep. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, speaks at a Capitol press conference Wednesday (Jan. 16) during a rollout of his foreclosure legislation. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

For McGee, the shadow of foreclosure fell over her as a result of a job layoff, she explained at a Capitol press conference on Wednesday (Jan. 16).

McGee thought she was involved in meaningful discussions with her mortgage company — she’s listening, she’s believing, McGee said — until one day she called to inquire about the status of her home to learn that it had been sold, she said.

“‘You’re kidding, right? You really don’t mean that?’” she recalled saying in disbelief.

“But they did mean that,” McGee said.

Freiberg, an attorney, believes his neighbor was a victim of dual tracking.

That is, the mortgage company, despite the conversations, continued the foreclosure process as if McGee had been silent.

In his bill, Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, seeks to change state law to give homeowners a better chance at fighting to save their homes.

A key provision in the bill addresses dual tracking.

Under the billl, mortgage companies, upon receiving a loan modification request from a homeowner, must defer beginning the foreclosure process for 60 days.

If the foreclosure process had already begun when a loan modification request comes in, the company again would need to stop for 60 days or until lender and borrower had reached agreement.

Borrowers who incur losses in cases of dual tracking may take civil actions under the bill.

Reasonable attorney fees would be covered.

Other provisions require mandatory mediation if requested by the borrower, lenders to provide homeowners with a single points of contact in their company, and provides extra protections for military veterans.

The foreclosure problem isn’t unique to his neighborhood, Freiberg said.

When campaigning for office he noticed empty homes all over the legislative district.

Housing Finance and Policy Committee Chairwoman Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, said there were more than 21,000 foreclosures in Minnesota in 2011.

Numbers are down, but still three times higher than in 2005, according to Clark.

“It’s big,” Clark said of the scope of the problem.

Clark is upbeat about the chances of Freiberg’s bill.

“I think it’s quite likely,” she said of its passage.

McGee now has legal representation and is actively fighting the foreclosure process.

“What I discovered is that people don’t know where to go to fight,” said McGee, a poet with a fondness for quoting poet Langston Hughes.

“It’s just ridiculous, is all I can say,” she said of her dilemma.

Freiberg’s bill had its first House committee hearing on Wednesday.

This is the freshman lawmaker’s second piece of legislation.