Branches of City Government Ready Mortgage Foreclosure Protection Plan
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has proposed $2 million in public funding to help Philadelphians impacted by the foreclosure crisis’ perfect storm of ballooning adjustable rate mortgages, predatory lending and slowing economy.
The City Council passed a resolution in March for a moratorium on sheriff’s sales of foreclosed homes, spurring Sheriff John Green’s delay of sheriff’s sales this spring until July.
The Common Pleas Court established a pilot program to divert properties set for sheriff’s sales into conciliation conferences to work out possible loan renegotiations.
Efforts of all three branches were packaged together during an announcement by Nutter Wednesday of a mortgage foreclosure protection program for Philadelphia.
“We are ready,” Judge Annette M. Rizzo said over and over again with President Judge C. Darnell Jones II, Councilman Curtis Jones, Administrative Judge D. Webster Keogh, Councilwoman Marian Tasco and Nutter standing beside her.
There were 6,200 foreclosure filings in Philadelphia last year, and 8,500 are expected this year.
Jones said the Resident Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Pilot Program allows court intervention in cases of already-pending owner-occupied mortgage foreclosures lawsuits. But he thanked the executive and legislative branches for their leadership on providing resources to residents whose troubled mortgages aren’t yet subject to a court case.
The city will provide $700,000 for housing counseling, $300,000 for legal services provided by Community Legal Services and $1 million in remortgaging funding for the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency’s HERO program in the next fiscal year.
“We’re here to do the public good,” Jones said. “We are the public’s conscience in that regard.”
About 185 attorneys have volunteered for the court’s diversion pilot program, Rizzo said.
Training was held Tuesday for 100 pro bono attorneys helping with the conciliation conferences, 60 lawyers are signed up for a training session scheduled for July and 25 attorneys are working as Judges Pro Tem, Rizzo said.
“I’m calling on the law firms … to come forward to donate your time,” Jones said, to represent homeowners in conciliation conferences or as Judges Pro Tem managing the conciliation conferences.
Nutter said it appears that the Philadelphia bar is really getting involved in the court’s program.
The court’s program will be a legally appropriate process to either keep people in their home or help them gracefully exit, Rizzo said.
The conciliation conference process was developed by the 4-year-old Mortgage Foreclosure Steering Committee, which functions under Rizzo’s authority and represents lender, homeowner, nonprofit advocate and municipal viewpoints on foreclosures.
The first conciliation conferences are scheduled for next week. There are 667 cases that are eligible for conciliation conferences, and about 50 percent of homeowners are expected to show up, Rizzo said.
Tasco said Philadelphia efforts are a model for other cities to follow.
Jones said the court has been contacted by representatives from New York and Dallas about Philadelphia’s efforts, and that he will be speaking about the program before the July conference of the International Association of Clerks, Recorders, Election Officials and Treasurers.
All the leaders asked city residents worried about their mortgages to get free housing counseling by calling the city’s new 215-334-HOME hotline staffed with attorneys from Community Legal Services.
“If you fear you might possibly lose your most valuable asset, there is hope for you,” Nutter said. “Do not suffer in silence.”
– Amaris Elliott-Engel, staff reporter
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