A rally for a bill that would protect homeowners facing foreclosure apparently fell on deaf ears.
House Bill 781, the Homeowners Fairness Act, is stuck in committee after Rep. Mike Jacobs (D-80), chairman of the House judiciary sub-committee, stated on Feb. 24 that he would not allow the committee to vote on the bill this session.
That move came the day after a rally on the steps of the state Capitol urging lawmakers to vote on the bill.
“What [this] means to me is they don’t want to vote on it because they don’t want their constituents back home, who went through foreclosures, to use that against them,” said Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick (D-94), who sponsored the legislation.
Kendrick said the bill would require that lenders give “actual notice to homeowners when they are about to be foreclosed on.”
“Currently under state law you just need a certified letter and an advertisement in a legal organ,” Kendrick said.
The bill also “gives us due process,” Kendrick said. “Foreclosures are the only type of action that takes away your property without having to go through the judicial process.”
Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-82), who co-sponsored the bill said, the bill would “force banks to better underwrite their loans.”
“The financial crisis that we have experienced and that engulfed the world was ignited by bad mortgages,” Holcomb said. “Banks had lax standards and made bad loans.
“What I like about this bill is that it changes the policy so that banks actually do some due diligence before underwriting loans,” he said.
Commissioner Larry Johnson said the bill would stop “unnecessary” foreclosures and give homeowners “an opportunity to explain themselves and work out some payment plans.”
“This bill will help folks in neighborhoods all over the state of Georgia to make sure they can maintain and keep their homes,” Johnson said. “Owning a home is the American dream. We don’t need to create a nightmare.”
According to RealtyTrac.com, DeKalb County had the third-highest number of foreclosure actions—default notices, foreclosure auction notices or bank repossessions—in the state in January, with most of the foreclosures occurring in Lithonia, Stone Mountain and Decatur.
According to Commissioner Lee May the bill would give a voice to “people that don’t necessarily have a voice for themselves.”
“When you’re going up against these banks with billions of dollars who are also being supported to the tune of billions of dollars by our government as well, the people don’t stand a chance,” May said.
“You’ll hear people say, ‘Well, they shouldn’t have gotten into this house that they couldn’t afford,’” May said. “Well, they had no understanding that gas prices would be $3.50 a gallon. They didn’t know that the unemployment rate would double since 2007. They didn’t know that this government…would be passing laws that would adversely affect their day-to-day lives.”
Khaiyah Yisrael, a retired attorney who helps homeowners who cannot afford attorneys, called foreclosure “the new civil rights issue.”
“Foreclosures are disproportionately affecting African Americans and Latinos, more so than any other group,” Yisrael said.
Yisrael said state law needs to be changed to force the courts to give homeowners the due process afforded by the U.S. Constitution.
“The judges are not listening to the issues,” Yisrael said. “They are siding with the banks and [banks] are able to put the people out without them having a voice.”
Doreen Carter, president of the Greater Lithonia Chamber of Commerce, said, “The business community is demanding a vote.”
“It’s time [for banks] to stop taking homes of home-owners without representation,” Carter said. “We need for our legislators to step up and support the people.”