By Michael Gaffney, Worcester City Councilor at Large candidate
As you are aware, the issue of foreclosure mediation has been debated by the Worcester City Council for several months with plenty of discussion, but no action. Growing frustrated with the lack of action, I wrote to the most vocal council member on the topic as follows. I did not seek to attach myself to the issue for political advantage; rather, I handed out a solution and would have been satisfied if any action were taken to achieve a result. Clearly, if any action had been taken, I would not be writing. I will let the email chain speak for itself:
On Apr 2, 2013, at 9:16 PM, I wrote to an email from my phone titled “Foreclosure Mediation” to Councilor X:
Springfield Mass program seems to work… Looks like a settlement just made to implement the plan:
RI has plans in Cranston, Providence and Warwick:
So, it appears we have a format to follow. Love the fine Springfield imposes against the banks for not attending.
The RI bankruptcy court also has a plan for mediation in Chapter 13 plans.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE Smartphone
Response from Councilor X:
Sent from my iPhone
Email sent to Councilor X on April 3, 2013
I sent over some information to you last night relative to the foreclosure programs in other cities. Now that I am at a computer, I am able to forward more substantial information. I have attended a number of conferences on the issue relative to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court’s program in Chapter 13 Plans that started in RI, so I have a bit of background.
Attached you will find the Springfield and Providence Ordinances.
Springfield uses a neutral not-for-cost mediation program. There are several options available. First, you could simply try the Worcester Bar Association to administer a program of volunteers (POC = Polly Tatum, President #508-795-1557.) Second, the Better Business Bureau currently administers the Lemon Law Arbitration Program under Massachusetts Law, the arbitrators get a “gratuity” of $100.00 per case (POC Nancy Cahalen, President #508-755-3340 x109.) Third, the District Court uses a mediation program formally administered by the WCAC now being administered by Mediation Services of North Central Mass (I do not have any contacts other than what is listed on the website – POC Elaine Sherrin, Director #978-466-9595.) Finally, the Massachusetts Justice Project currently runs the Lawyer for the Day Program and through volunteers administers free legal services such as bankruptcy cases (I do handle free bankruptcy cases, but do not have a POC, the just send them over to me, the main number is #800-639-1209.)
I just don’t see where implementation of such a program would cost the city an inordinate amount of funds. Further, where we have language concerning ordinances in use, this matter shouldn’t continue to drag out in meeting after meeting. Finally, where the Federal District Court found the ordinance in Springfield to be constitutional and where the banks challenging it settled (and agreed to be bound) before the Appeals Court, passing such a measure is less likely to face a legal challenge or cost the city to defend it.
I am not trying to insert myself in this matter; rather, I been hearing the debate for several months and find it vexing that no progress has been made. This has been your issue; hence, I have communicated with you. If I can be of further assistance, let me know.
|On Apr 3, 2013, at 5:27 PM, I wrote:After review of the last paragraph of my last email, consulting with my wife and a friend, it appears I miscommunicated my thoughts. I meant to say that the situation was not being resolved, that you were leading the charge on the issue and I was sending you information to help you out directly as this has been near and dear to you.Unfortunately, the way in which I communicated was as if you weren’t getting things done. That is absolutely not what I intended. I tend to focus on resolving an issue and am less careful about how I communicate. Clearly I will need to improve my delivery. I had hoped to help and instead I may have inadvertently insulted you. It was not my intent.
I hope you will accept my sincere apology.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE Smartphone
Response from Councilor X, April 3, 2013:
No problem. I appreciated you sending the info.
Sent from my iPhone
Article sent to the Editor, Worcester Telegram and Gazette, May 1, 2013 (unpublished, but plenty of specious and inane comments were published on May 3, 2013)
Your recent article titled “Big Banks win again” concerning the $5,000.00 foreclosure bond ordinance showed the short falls in the current bond requirement. We need to fix the unintended consequences of the bond requirement and strengthen the ordinance to help our citizens in foreclosure.
The cities of Springfield and Providence have passed ordinances that require the mortgage holder to mediate with the homeowner prior to foreclosure. Springfield’s ordinance was upheld in Federal District Court and was settled on Appeal. All the tools we need to update our ordinance are available and can be easily implemented. We need to rewrite the current ordinance to protect our citizens. We can’t let another month pass and another family be put out on the street without taking action.
Michael T. Gaffney
Today is May 5, 2013.
A mortgage mediation program for Worcester
Written by admin on August 21st, 2013
By Michael Gaffney, candidate for Worcester City Councilor at Large
Mortgage mediation is a process whereby during the foreclosure process, a representative from the bank meets with the homeowner relative to a mortgage workout. Getting two parties to sit down in a neutral environment to discuss the issues often yields positive results. A property lost to foreclosure lowers surrounding property values and seriously disrupts neighborhoods.
On August 19, 2013, per the Telegram and Gazette, the administration of the City of Worcester reported that it would not back an ordinance to establish a mediation program on property entering into foreclosure.
The reasons given for not implementing such a program were costs, logistics and legality:
As to costs, there are far too many volunteer organization as well as services operating under a block grant that provide free services to our courts and other programs. There are also numerous low cost providers. Cost is simply not a viable argument.
Logistically, the City of Worcester already requires a $5,000.00 bond for potential costs upon the filing of a foreclosure; therefore, someone is already assigned to review the bond and a tracking mechanism is already in place. The time involved in a referral to a mediation program is nominal.
As to the alleged legal issue, in the August 19, 2013 edition of the Telegram and Gazette, the City Solicitor claims that the Springfield ordinance is pending appeal which is mostly accurate. On July 2, 2012, U.S. District Judge Michael Ponsor dismissed the lawsuit filed by the banks against Springfield’s mediation ordinance stating “the modest effort made by the city to soften the crisis through the promulgation of the two ordinances violates no Constitutional provision or state statute.” An appeal was filed by the banks. On or about March 14, 2013, the banks offered to drop the appeal if the City of Springfield would drop the bond requirement. The cause of the appeal was not with the mediation ordinance; rather, the cause of the appeal is the posting of the bond.
Here, the City of Worcester has implemented the bond requirement but not the mediation ordinance. Take note, the City of Springfield’s bond requirement is $10,000.00 which appears more penal than remedial. The banks were willing to allow the mediation ordinance. It seems obvious that the Springfield City Council is more concerned about the bond money than solving the problem for the homeowners, unlike the City of Worcester.
Our City Council rose to the occasion last night to advise the administration that they will push forward and should. In response, the administration offered to come to the table and look at all options. Unfortunately, this means further delay in the enactment of any ordinance, but the parties appear willing to further the process. Hopefully action will be taken sooner rather than later.