By State Rep. Tina Orwall
The 2011 Legislative session was the hardest for me and for most lawmakers, even those who have been serving for many years. As we prepare for another round of heart wrenching budget decisions, I want to stop and share some good news that came out of my work from last session.
In the summer of 2010, I met four people in my district who live on the same block, and all four were facing foreclosure. And all four, as well as many others, were finding it hard to navigate the foreclosure process. They were given the run-around as it was nearly impossible to get answers from the banks. The process was broken and homeowners were loosing their homes without even having a meeting with their banks.
The statistics were alarming. In just two years over 77,000 families lost their homes, which means Washington state went from 25th to 10th in the nation in foreclosures. In fact, between 2009 and 2012 more than 132,000 homes will be foreclosed on in our state. It’s true; RealtyTrac reported that in September there were 935 new foreclosures just in King County. Kent is one of the hardest hit areas with 115 of those foreclosures.
It’s pretty evident that what we have in front of us are the new faces of foreclosure. This is not something that happens to other people. Your family members, friends, neighbors, co-workers, or even you can be at risk of losing your home.
Homeowners are under tremendous stress and our housing market is flooded with properties, many of which remain empty for a long time. And once they do sell it’s often at reduced rates, which negatively impacts the value of other homes in the area.
So I worked on a new system with stakeholders to help homeowners stay in their homes whenever possible, and help reach a resolution faster, instead of having to wait anywhere from 12 to 16 months. My bill, dubbed the Foreclosure Fairness Act of 2011, received bipartisan support and was signed by the governor on April 14.
The new law created the Foreclosure Fairness Program to provide desperately needed solutions to the 45,000 families expected to receive foreclosure notices this year. The program was launched on July 22 and in just three months over 600 foreclosures throughout the state have been halted to give homeowners the opportunity to participate in mediation, reassuring evidence that all the work and the hurdles to pass this law were definitely worthwhile.
In this short video, I talk about the program with representatives from the Department of Commerce and the Housing Finance Commission, as well as the Mayor of Kent, a real estate agent, a housing counselor, and a homeowner facing foreclosure who talks about her experience and how the program has helped her.
The new law brings banks and homeowners to the table to explore alternatives to foreclosure. It requires lenders to notify borrowers prior to foreclosure of the availability of foreclosure counseling and the potential for mediation. Foreclosure counseling is helping homeowners understand all of their options and determine the best course of action.
Adding housing counselors and third-party mediation to the foreclosure process levels the playing field between homeowners and mortgage lenders. And having the opportunity to sit down face-to-face with the bank gives struggling homeowners a real chance to work out the best possible outcome for their specific situation. The Washington State Department of Commerce worked tirelessly to get these new resources up and running to respond to the needs of homeowners.
People were desperately asking for help, so we got to work on solutions and now it’s a reality. We have the Foreclosure Fairness Program that homeowners need!
To learn more about what this new program has to offer, please visit the Department of Commerce’s Foreclosure Fairness Program website, or call the Washington State’s foreclosure prevention hotline:877-894-4663).
State Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, represents the 33rd Legislative District, which includes the cities of Burien, Des Moines, Kent, Normandy Park and SeaTac. She is a member of the Early Learning and Human Services Committee, the Education Appropriations and Oversight Committee, and the Judiciary Committee.