Local News Columnist
5:41 PM CST, February 13, 2013
Not one single bank executive has gone to jail for the mortgage monkey business that collapsed our economy.
That will go down as one of the great injustices of our lifetimes. Millions of people's lives were turned upside down by the housing crash — jobs lost, home values wrecked, foreclosures filed.
And nobody held accountable. Despicable.
For that reason, I sympathize with homeowner advocates who complain that efforts to speed up the dreadfully slow foreclosure process in Florida are another way for banks to win while the little guy loses.
But here's the reality: Prolonging the foreclosure process is simply drawing out Florida's pain.
The best thing for this state would be to move foreclosures through the court system as quickly as possible so neighborhoods can move on.
Houses in foreclosure limbo end up with uncut grass and peeling paint. Or worse. Eventually they're dumped in a fire sale.
These homes shackle whole neighborhoods struggling to push property values back into positive territory.
If foreclosures moved faster, then the homes would have less time to deteriorate and new families could move in sooner. Two things that would help neighborhoods.
So an effort in Tallahassee to fast-track some foreclosures shouldn't be dismissed as the latest way to pad bankers' pockets. In fact, the banks don't even like this bill (HB 87) very much.
To see how bad this problem is, take a look at the numbers.
In Florida it takes an average of 853 days for a bank to repossess a home. That's nearly 2 1/2 years — third slowest in the nation
Florida is a judicial foreclosure state, which means they move through the court system and require a judge's approval. This takes longer and is more expensive for lenders.
Back when the economy first went kaput, California, Nevada and Arizona were just as bad off or worse than Florida.
But California, Nevada and Arizona use a non-judicial foreclosure process.
Those three states saw double-digit declines in foreclosure activity between 2011 and 2012. Florida had a 53 percent increase.
Cases are log jammed. And the pain is prolonged.
Rep. Kathleen Passidomo is adamant that she's not trying to make Florida a non-judicial state. She's trying to streamline some foreclosures by, among other things, cutting the number of court hearings from two to one.
This couldn't come at a better time. After a lull because of the robo-signing scandal foreclosures are starting to pick back up again.
Passidomo, a Republican from Naples, wants to prevent fraud like robo-signing by requiring lenders to certify that they have their paperwork in order from the minute they file a foreclosure against a homeowner. That's not asking too much.
Some consumer advocates will argue that it's the banks, not homeowners, who are holding up the court process in the first place.
It's true that banks have been so overwhelmed by the number of homes they have to repossess that they just can't get through them fast enough.
Thankfully, some banks have improved — if only slightly — their efforts to negotiate with borrowers to lower interest rates or even reduce a loan's principal so families can stay in their homes. Sadly, those agreements aren't always possible, especially in cases in which a homeowner has no income or ability to pay even a reduced amount.
It's those cases that need to be sped along.
This bill contains a small bit of relief for even those homeowners. It give banks one year instead of five to go after owners for losses from a foreclosure.
It's not justice. But it might help us work through the hurt more quickly.
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