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California's Attorney General, the Honorable Kamala D. Harris
The California Legislative Black Caucus hosted a town hall-styled meeting to explain the California Homeowners Bill of Rights to the public.
Last Thursday evening at a town hall meeting, followed by a panel discussion, Attorney General (A/G) Kamala Harris spoke to a capacity crowd at the California Science Center, Wallis Annenberg Building about the provisions in her Homeowner Bill of Rights and the state's efforts to protect homeowners. The California Homeowner Bill of Rights (HBOR) is a legislative package designed to bring fairness, accountability and transparency to the state's mortgage and foreclosure process. The event was sponsored by the California Legislative Black Caucus (CLBC).
The mortgage crisis has resulted in the largest loss of Black wealth in history due to foreclosures and the loss of home values for Blacks, according to a report released by The Center for Responsible Lending. More than one million California homes were lost to foreclosure between 2008 and 2011-with an additional 500,000 currently in the foreclosure pipeline.
According to the Attorney General, "Fifty-nine percent of network for African Americans in 2005 came from home equity. And the foreclosure crisis nationwide has disproportionately affected African Americans and Latinos. African Americans suffer 50 percent of the foreclosures despite the fact that they are only 20 percent of the borrowers." In addition between 2009 and 2012, it was estimated that property depreciation in communities of color related to foreclosure was $194 billion for African Americans and $177 billion for Latino communities.
The expressed purpose of the meeting was for the attorney general and members of the CLBC was to inform the public about the processes, obstacles and barriers that they are faced with in trying to remedy the mortgage mess that has affected millions of hard working Americans. For were it not for the attorney general, California would not have gotten the largest portion of money from the banks ($18.9 billion out of a total of $25 billion). However, some of the problems still to be worked out are: finding/locating the people who suffered the loss of their homes, and getting the money into their hands; making sure their legal rights are protected; and not letting others utilize the money for other purposes. These are some of the problems that the HBOR are designed to protect once it becomes law.
"I'm a career prosecutor; I believe in accountability and consequences," said A/G Harris. She related some of the pitfalls in homeowners face in trying to deal with banks that deal with borrowers on one hand, via trial modifications, while another department - in the same bank, at the same time - is conducting a foreclosure. "It's a common story," she said of the dual track system. "People do not have a single point of contact."
Sen. Curren D. Price, chairman of the CLBC said, "Communities of color are being devastated by this crisis and members of the Legislative Black Caucus stand strongly in support of the Attorney General's courageous efforts to protect California homeowners. We have to hold these predators accountable."
In navigating the budget crisis in the capital, it appeared that the billions earmarked for home-owners relief have become a magnet for another kind of predators. It seems like some of the elected officials want to "share the wealth" which
would cause additional hardships on the already devastated homeowners.
To that Assembly Mike Davis has stated, "The Governor and Legislative leadership chose to use the homeowner's money to solve the state's budget crisis. In many ways we must thank Attorney General Kamala Harris for negotiating this settlement on behalf of California's homeowners. This money has had much more durable impact than I could have imagined. In a perfect world I would have loved for it all to go to our homeowners. However, it is my hope we will be able to pay for the services it was intended for in the very near future. My understanding is that this money does not impact the direct monies used to negotiate mortgage violations, but are funds which were to be used for counseling and other related services for homeowners."
One of the most daunting problems facing the attorney general is locating millions who have lost their homes in order to disburse the billions that she has negotiated on their behalf. As soon as she arrived, A/G Harris encountered Jameela Simmonds, who with her tape recorder asked her the first question of the evening: "What made you decide to become a lawyer? To which A/G Harris gracefully answered the young reporter-in-the-making's question.
In explaining the relationship between the settlement and the HBOR, she said, "The national mortgage settlement included a number of factors: the 18 billion that we brought back, 12 billion which is committed for principal reduction. It also included reforms, but the reforms that are part of the national settlement, they only have a shelf life of three years. So the connection is that the Homeowner Bill of Rights would make permanent those reforms ... and in that way, make real the promise that one does not go back to a defective system where homeowners caught the losing end and to make sure as we go forward everybody has benefit of fair and due process. It's really a big issue with many parts and we are going to have to deal with the discreet parts in a very specific way."
About locating displaced homeowners, she continued, "The part of the settlement that is meant to be support for community-based organizations to do the outreach and public education is very significant. It is as detailed as knocking on people's doors and saying, 'do you know where the Smiths went.' The faith-based community has been a leader and they'll continue to be a leader. FAME has a very good program."
On the panel that engaged the audience in a question-and -answer session were: Sen. Price, Assemblymembers Steve Bradford and Mike Davis, Tunua Thrash, Lori Gay, Denise Hunter, Amber Lewis and an attorney who is a part of the A/G's strike force. The moderator of the panel was KJLH's Dominique DiPrima.
The Sentinel has just learned that the California Homeowners Bill of Rights has just passed the Senate public Safety Committee. Assembly bill 1763 authored by Assemblyman Mike Davis passed the Senate Public Safety Committee by a vote of 7-0. It would authorize the Attorney General to impanel a statewide grand jury with state-wide jurisdiction for the investigation and indictment of multi-jurisdictional financial crimes that involve fraud. There are six bill concepts in the AG's mortgage bill package, which will be reflected in mirrored bills introduced in both houses of the State Legislature.