Feb 04, 2009
Marcy Kaptur of Ohio is the longest-serving Democratic
congresswoman in U.S. history. Her district, stretching along the shore
of Lake Erie from west of Cleveland to Toledo, faces an epidemic of
home foreclosures and 11.5 percent unemployment. That heartland region,
the Rust Belt, had its heart torn out by the North American Free Trade
Agreement, with shuttered factories and struggling family farms. Kaptur
led the fight in Congress against NAFTA. Now, she is recommending a
radical foreclosure solution from the floor of the U.S. Congress: "So I
say to the American people, you be squatters in your own homes. Don't
She criticizes the bailout's failure to protect homeowners facing
foreclosure. Her advice to "squat" cleverly exploits a legal
technicality within the subprime-mortgage crisis. These mortgages were
made, then bundled into securities and sold and resold repeatedly, by
the very Wall Street banks that are now benefiting from TARP (the
Troubled Asset Relief Program). The banks foreclosing on families very
often can't locate the actual loan note that binds the homeowner to the
bad loan. "Produce the note," Kaptur recommends those facing
foreclosure demands of the banks.
"[P]ossession is nine-tenths of the law," Rep. Kaptur told me.
"Therefore, stay in your property. Get proper legal representation ...
[if] Wall Street cannot produce the deed nor the mortgage audit trail
... you should stay in your home. It is your castle. It's more than a
piece of property. ... Most people don't even think about getting
representation, because they get a piece of paper from the bank, and
they go, 'Oh, it's the bank,' and they become fearful, rather than
saying: 'This is contract law. The mortgage is a contract. I am one
party. There is another party. What are my legal rights under the law
as a property owner?' "If you look at the bad paper, if you look at
where there's trouble, 95 to 98 percent of the paper really has moved
to five institutions: JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wachovia,
Citigroup and HSBC. They have this country held by the neck."
Kaptur recommends calling the local Legal Aid Society, Bar Association or 888-995-4673 for legal assistance.
The onerous duty of physically evicting people and dragging their
possessions to the curb typically falls on the local sheriff. Kaptur
conditions her squatting advice, saying, "If it's a sheriff's eviction,
if it's reached that point, that is almost impossible." Unless the
sheriff refuses to carry out the eviction, as Sheriff Warren C. Evans
of Wayne County, Mich., has decided to do. Wayne County, including
Detroit, has had more than 46,000 foreclosures in the past two years.
After reviewing TARP, Evans determined that home foreclosures would
conflict with TARP's goal of reducing foreclosures, and that he'd be
violating the law by denying foreclosed homeowners the chance at
potential federal assistance. "I cannot in clear conscience allow one
more family to be put out of their home until I am satisfied they have
been afforded every option they are entitled to under the law to avoid
foreclosure," he said.
Bruce Marks of the Boston-based Neighborhood Assistance Corp. of
America is taking the fight to the homes of the banks' CEOs. Last
October, as the TARP bailout was shaping up to benefit Wall Street and
not Main Street, NACA blockaded the entrance of mortgage giant Fannie
Mae until it got a meeting with executives there. Now NACA is working
with Fannie Mae to restructure mortgages. Marks is organizing a
nationwide, three-day "Predator's Tour," going to the CEOs' homes to
demand meetings with them. He told me: "This is what we're going to do
with thousands of homeowners, go to their (the CEOs') home and say: 'I
want you to meet my family. I want you to see who you're foreclosing
on.' ... If they're going to take our homes, we're going to go to their
homes, and we're going to tell them, 'No more.' "
Before the inauguration, Larry Summers, the chair of President
Obama's National Economic Council, promised congressional Democratic
leaders to "implement smart, aggressive policies to reduce the number
of preventable foreclosures by helping to reduce mortgage payments for
economically stressed but responsible homeowners, while also reforming
our bankruptcy laws and strengthening existing housing initiatives."
According to a report by RealtyTrac, "Foreclosure filings were
reported on 2.3 million U.S. properties in 2008, an increase of 81
percent from 2007 and up 225 percent from 2006." As the financial
crisis deepens, people facing foreclosure should take Kaptur's advice
and tell their bankers, "Produce the note."
© 2023 San Franciso Chronicle
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