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Washington “Foreclosure Fairness Act” Passed This Week Will Provide More Options to Homeowners

- Friday, April 08, 2011

This week, the Washington State legislature passed the new House Bill 1362, also known as the Foreclosure Fairness Act. The bill, sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Tina Orwall (Des Moines) is aimed at reducing the high rate of foreclosures in Washington State. The bill was passed by the Senate at the end of March, but with amendments, so it had to return to the House, where it was passed on Wednesday.

Recent data released by RealtyTrac indicate that Washington State had the 11th highest number of foreclosures in the country for February 2011. One third of these were in King County, with Snohomish and Pierce Counties together accounting for another third.

According to HB 1362, section 1a, "The rate of home foreclosures continues to rise to unprecedented levels, both for prime and subprime loans, and a new wave of foreclosures has occurred due to rising unemployment, job loss, and higher adjustable loan payments.”

This represents a significant rise in the foreclosure rate for the state; two years ago, Washington ranked only 25th nation-wide. Over 77,000 families state-wide have lost their homes in that time period, and 43,000 more families are expected to lose their homes in 2011.

The Foreclosure Fairness Act has been drafted with the intention of slowing the foreclosure rate in Washington State by providing homeowners with information and alternatives. There has been a growing recognition that the current American foreclosure system is “broken,” with many struggling homeowners stymied about their options due to problems communicating with their loan servicers: long telephone waits, lost paperwork, not getting to speak to right people. The new bill will bring homeowners and servicers face to face, in the company of a third party to facilitate negotiations.

Rep. Orwall told the Seattle Medium that “one of the keys to restore Washington’s economy is to stabilize the housing market through a proactive and effective strategy that helps families keep their homes. Mediation is an important new tool to ensure that all options have been explored before moving to foreclosure.”

The new bill will require that lenders provide homeowners with a notice of how much of a payment (including any fees) is required to reinstate a deed of trust before recording notice of foreclosure sale, and also that they explain that mediation is an option. It will allow for the provision of a professional housing counsellor (i.e. a disinterested third party) early in the process, to help with communication, in order to try to avoid issuance of a foreclosure notice in the first place.

If the homeowner and servicer cannot come to an agreement, the bill then provides for foreclosure mediation: help from the third party in looking at alternatives, such as short sales. Foreclosure mediation has already dropped the foreclosure rate in other states.

The bill also provides for a mechanism for funding the new housing counsellors. Financial institutions which issue more than 250 notices of default in the preceding year will be required to pay a $250 fee on each notice of default. The fee will also help to fund outreach campaigns as well as the costs of enforcement of the new regulations.

“Foreclosure may sound like someone else’s problem, but when it’s happening en masse, like it’s happening right now, it’s all of our problems,” commented Sen. Adam Kline to The State Column, noting that a high rate of foreclosure “tears the connecting threads out of our neighborhoods.”

Foreclosure mediation, aimed at finding alternatives to foreclosure, will not only help individual homeowners. Reducing the foreclosure rate statewide will also help the housing market as a whole, speeding the recovery of home prices and eliminating the problem of negative home equity that currently plagues one third of Seattle area homeowners.

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