Rubie Curl-Pinkins sat smiling on the front porch of her Detroit home because ... well, because she could sit on the front porch of her home.As the activists who helped her stave off eviction from the Holden Street property she's called home for 45 years held a small rally Friday, Curl-Pinkins needed only three words to sum up her feelings about the turn of events.
"It's a blessing," said Curl-Pinkins, who gets around with the aid of a walker.
The point of the rally wasn't just to celebrate the victory. Members of the group Moratorium Now! wanted to drive home the point that it was public pressure that helped Curl-Pinkins keep her home, and that even more public pressure will be needed if tens of thousands of other Michigan residents in the same sinking boat are also going to be able to win reprieves from the foreclosures facing them.
What activists such as attorney Jerry Goldberg and others want is for the public to get behind state Senate Bill 1306. Introduced by Sen. Hansen Clarke (D-Detroit), the legislation is seeking to provide a two-year moratorium on home foreclosures. Modeled on laws passed during the Great Depression, it is currently gathering dust as it sits waiting for a hearing before the Senate's Banking and Financial Institutions Committee.
Strong public pressure will be needed to counteract the lobbying of special interests — namely banks and mortgage companies — opposed to the measure, said Goldberg. There's no shortage of people who'd benefit from the bill, and those ranks are growing larger every week.
As of July, Michigan had the seventh-highest foreclosure rate in the country with one filing for every 137 households, according to data compiled by RealtyTrac, a company that tracks foreclosures. During the second quarter of this year, 32,868 Michigan properties were in foreclosure, according to published reports.
If signed into law, Clarke's bill would allow homeowners faced with foreclosure to obtain a court-mandated stay letting them remain in their homes for up to two years, giving them time to arrange new financing. The law is not intended to let homeowners skate by without paying anything to mortgage holders. A judge would determine what Clarke describes as a "reasonable" payment structure.
"People will still have to make payments," Clarke told Metro Times as he stood outside Curl-Pinkins' home on the city's near west side. "It would be up to a judge to set an interim mortgage rate. This bill wouldn't help people with no income and no prospect of an income."
Passage of the bill will do more than just help individual homeowners avoid eviction, said Clarke. The overall effect, he contended, will be to protect property values in communities large and small.
The math is straightforward: Because foreclosed properties usually sell for a fraction of their assessed value, the value of neighboring properties takes a big hit when foreclosed properties go on the market. Value declines even further when scrappers hit foreclosed properties, stealing copper plumbing, wiring, aluminum siding, furnaces and more.
"What you get from foreclosures is blight and devastated communities," Clarke said.
Detroit made national news earlier this month when a house that sold for $65,000 in November 2006 was listed for just $1 after the property went into foreclosure, the owners were evicted and scrappers stripped the place bare.
"What we're trying to do with this legislation is keep homes occupied, because once these homes go vacant, everyone loses," Clarke said.
Clarke blamed Senate Banking and Financial Institutions Committee Chair Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) for failing to hold a hearing on the bill, which was introduced in May.
A staffer in Richardville's office said no hearing has been held because of the Legislature's summer break. Activists at Friday's rally promised to turn up the heat on Richardville if immediate action isn't taken, saying that they are prepared to stage demonstrations in front of the senator's home.
It was that kind of public pressure that won the day for Curl-Pinkins, her supporters said. After she fell behind on the payments of a subprime mortgage provided by the lender Countrywide — now owned by Bank of America — eviction efforts stalled after protesters took to the streets in order to draw attention to her plight.
Even though the retired health care worker was able to obtain a reverse mortgage allowing her to meet her original mortgage obligations, the lender was moving ahead with eviction because the redemption period had passed.
"When the bank said no, we got them to say yes," daughter Nikki Curl told supporters Friday. "When people unite together, you can make a difference. I've seen 100 people with picket signs beat the biggest bank in America."
To win passage of Clarke's bill in Lansing, an even more intense outpouring of public support is going to be necessary, Goldberg says.
But it's not just Michigan. Goldberg said he recently returned from California, where momentum is building to institute a similar moratorium there.
"What we're seeing," he said, "is that this small struggle on Holden Street can inspire a national struggle."
The group Moratorium Now! will stage a rally in support of SB 1306 in Lansing at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 17. Call 313-319-0970 or go to the Web site moratorium-mi.org for more information.Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]