Foreclosure fight 

Why local group thinks Detroit is at the battle's center

The Wayne County Board of Commissioners was supposed to hold a public hearing April 27, on Commissioner Martha Scott's proposal seeking a moratorium on housing foreclosures in the county.

But that hearing was canceled by Commission Chair Gary Woronchak, raising the ire of the group People Before Banks, according to Steve Babson, a leader of the group that is supporting Scott's efforts.

Babson, a prominent labor historian, author and activist, says his group wants the county to investigate the legality of foreclosures taking place. In addition to the investigation, People Before Banks wants the commission, as proposed by Scott, to call upon Sheriff Benny Napoleon to institute a moratorium on the sheriff's sales of foreclosed homes while the matter is being sorted out.

The legality of many foreclosures is being challenged nationwide on a variety of fronts. As the television program 60 Minutes recently reported, there is ample evidence of mortgage holders attempting to foreclose on properties using forged documents because the proper paperwork wasn't in their possession — often because mortgages were never legally transferred.

In Michigan, the state appeals court recently invalidated foreclosures sought by one of the system's major players.

The court ruled that the state's Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS) lacked the legal standing to pursue foreclosures by means of "advertisement," meaning that it only had to post notice that a house was being foreclosed on to proceed. Now MERS, which according to court documents was "developed as a mechanism to provide for the faster and lower cost buying and selling of mortgage debt," must take a homeowner to court as its first step in a foreclosure process. That gives homeowners the opportunity to demand documented proof that the foreclosure is lawful.

And as a result of that ruling, says activist and attorney Vanessa Fluker, all foreclosures brought by MERS in the state are voided.

Which is why Scott and the group People Before Banks want a moratorium put in place while this snake pit gets sorted out.

Commission Chair Woronchak says his concern about Scott's proposal is that it lacks "teeth."

Ultimately, it is up to Sheriff Napoleon to decide whether to conduct sheriff's sales of foreclosed properties. Former Sheriff Warren Evans briefly implemented such a moratorium during his unsuccessful run to become mayor of Detroit. He backed off the effort after a lender's lawsuit claimed the sheriff couldn't legally impose such a moratorium.

Babson contends that, given the prevalence of fraud, a sound case can be made that the sheriff could legally impose a temporary halt to foreclosures.

Woronchak, while voicing support for efforts to help keep people from losing their homes, tells News Hits that there needs to be a more "deliberative" process before the commission decides on its course of action.

That process should include receiving formal input from Napoleon. He also says that he wants to hear from banks about how imposition of a moratorium might affect their willingness to make loans to new homebuyers in the county.

The nonprofit group Moratorium Now! Has been trying for years to get a halt to evictions, previously seeking — and failing — to have former Gov. Jennifer Granholm to declare a financial state of emergency and impose a foreclosure moratorium statewide.

The group now is part of the effort to focus on Wayne County in the hope that it will spark a movement that spreads across the rest of the state — and the rest of the country. The way the moratorium supporters see it, this is where the crisis began and this is where the effort to fight back can begin as well.

Certainly, it is a problem that's not going away — even though the so-called Great Recession is technically behind us.

According to info posted on the People Before Banks website, 100,000 Michigan homes were foreclosed on in 2010. In January of 2011, 17,000 Michigan homes received new foreclosure filings.

In Wayne County, over a six-month period ending in January of this year, an average of 400 homes a week were receiving notice that a foreclosure auction was pending.

"The county needs to investigate foreclosure sheriff's sales to determine how many are actually legal, because there's all kinds of fraud and forgery going on," Babson contends.

A link to the 60 Minutes broadcast supporting that allegation can be found at his group's website,

As attorney Fluker points out in a statement on that same site, this is an issue that affects more than those families facing foreclosure. (Fluker was subject of an earlier News Hit column when she was sanctioned by a judge for her efforts to halt a client's eviction. Fluker is fighting that ruling.)

"It doesn't matter where you are with respect to home ownership," she notes. "This affects you. This affects your community, and it affects our state and our ability to profit and be successful."

Babson is urging the people to visit the site to find out how they can become involved in the effort. If you don't have access to a computer, you can call him at 313-882-4009.

The way to fight this scourge is through political pressure. The call to join the fight has been issued.

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