Hey Dwight: Stop Foreclosures, and Give us Back the Right to Protect Ourselves

In 2001, as readers of the blog know, City Council passed a great anti-predatory lending bill.

The bill was a wonderful example of activism (ACORN, that Irv dude and CLS), media (Paul Davies at the Daily News, along with their Ed Board) and City government staff (like Derek Green) and Council members (like Marian Tasco) coming together to do something really great.

But then, in an effort led by Tasco's BFF, Dwight Evans, the state crushed Philadelphia's bill, and took away our power to do anything with regulating lending at all, by passing Act 55.

Talking about Act 55, and why he was about to kill the Tasco predatory lending law, Evans said the following (Daily News, June 12, 2001):

He was not convinced predatory lending was a widespread problem or that more legislation is needed.

"If this is a problem, I question if more laws are the answer," Evans said.

In reality, by 2001 there was no question that predatory lending was an issue. For the previous four or five years, mortgage foreclosures were skyrocketing in Philadelphia, including in the neighborhoods that make up Evans’ district. In the previous year alone, more than 5,000 foreclosures were filed in the City.

A week later, after the Daily News editorial board excoriated him for killing our predatory lending bill, Evans wrote the following in a letter to the editor (June 19, 2001):

I suggest you take your own advice and read the actual legislation. It contains the provisions you call for in your editorial (June 13). In places, it is actually more pro-consumer than what city officials are promoting.

House Bill 1703 offers strong restrictions that will provide unprecedented equity protection for homeowners. Moreover, it prohibits some practices associated with predatory lending.

To call it anti-consumer misses the complexity of this issue. The best way to stop predatory lending practices is to give teeth to the state Department of Banking. This is not a function of local government. House Bill 1703 provides the Department of Banking with extensive enforcement authority. We must not close off sources to those who need loans most.

I don’t like to call people liars, so lets just say that there was a lot of obvious and deliberate BS in that letter. His preemption bill did nothing except expose too many Philadelphians to subprime, predatory lenders. The fact that they were pretending it was somehow helping only made it a more bitter pill to swallow.

And then, three days later, the bill officially passed, and Evans said this:

Evans said that if the bill did not go far enough, changes can be made.

"This is not the end, only the beginning," he said.

It sure was only the beginning. From 2002 through 2007, 34,000 foreclosures were filed in Philadelphia.

And, I think it is only going to get worse.

The trends in both foreclosures, and subprime lending, are not good. In fact, in 2007, foreclosure filings were back to their peak years of 2002-2003:

Given everything I have seen in the number of adjustable loans that are resetting, 2008 will almost certainly be higher than any year on record. (For us, with a long-term, huge foreclosure problem, that is a big deal.) The economy is getting crappier, the housing market is going down, and in recent years the market share of subprime lending has only been growing:

Why do I go through all of this? Because today, Dwight's fellow member of his NW Philadelphia political coalition- Marian Tasco- has said that we should put a moratorium on Philadelphia foreclosures Sheriff Sales.

That is absolutely wonderful, and a great idea. There should be a freeze in foreclosures while federal, state and local governments figure out just what to do.

The article notes a problem though...

Other observers suggested the city does not have the authority to interfere in sheriff's sales, which may invoke the state's sole authority to regulate the banking industry. One of the sheriff's main jobs is to facilitate the selling of foreclosed property, for both lenders and borrowers.

The state's sole authority to regulate banking? Guess what bill that was? Yeah, good old Act 55.

In other words, the City will be sued if they issue this freeze. They may, or may not win that suit, and they should certainly try, and see what happens. But the reason this is even an issue to begin with, and why Marian Tasco may again be foiled, is because her biggest political supporter, Dwight Evans, took away the right of City Council to protect Philadelphia homeowners.

It is time for Dwight to get us that power back.

Action is definitely needed.

Here is map to give you a sense of the distribution of subprime mortgages around the city in 2006.
MAP_Philadelphia (306 x 396).gif
(see a larger figure)

--Mark Price

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