An emergency Senate bill that would place a moratorium on all home foreclosures in Maryland got its first hearing last week. For over two hours, the State Senate Judiciary Proceedings Committee on Wednesday heard testimony from witnesses on SB0755.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Anthony Muse, a Democrat who represents the 26th District in Prince George’s County. A report by the state Department of Housing and Community Development shows Prince George’s County saw the highest numbers of foreclosures of any jurisdiction in the state in 2013 with over 6,000 foreclosure filings. RealtyTrac reports Maryland overall ranked third in the nation for percentage of foreclosures in 2013.
“Something is terribly wrong,” said Muse during the hearing.
The bill’s other provisions include bringing in a third-party verifier to look at foreclosure cases already heading to court as well as asking the Office of Attorney General to study legal remedies for victims of illegal foreclosure.
Sen. Muse said even though banks have admitted to illegal activity, help has yet to reach the local level.
“I’m glad that they said that, I’m glad that they paid the fines,” said Muse. “But what I’m not so happy about is that our government then turns around and then gives that billions of dollars to fix the problem and none of that reaches our constituents.”
Many were on hand to testify at the hearing. Proponents believe the bill would allow for foreclosure procedures to be put in place that would be more equitable for everyone, while opponents say a moratorium is unnecessary and that Maryland law fine as is. Reverend Todd Yeary, Political Action Chairman for the Maryland NAACP, was one of many who spoke in favor of the bill. He said there is a rising cynicism when it comes to the state preventions put in place and that the trend in concentration of foreclosures in certain jurisdictions is troubling. He said there are both technical issues and policy issues.
“I think we need to be forward-thinking,” said Yeary. “Six months is a minimal amount of time to request to begin to make sure that the process put in place is working and is working for everybody.”
Prince George’s County resident Pastor Gloria Jones-Swieringa was also a proponent. She has been illegally foreclosed on three times and wanted to know where the voice of the people was in all of this.
“Where is liberty? Where is justice? Where are equal rights?” asked Swieringa. “The banks were bailed out and we feel like we’ve been sold out.”
Bill Castelli, with the Maryland Association of Realtors, spoke in opposition of the bill. Castelli told the committee that Maryland’s current law is a good balance for all homeowners.
“Even though we’re not going to have a quick market recovery, which would benefit certain homeowners who are in foreclosure, we are at least going to provide that longer process in those mediations to provide some opportunity for those homeowners in foreclosures to explore alternatives,” said Castelli.
Opponents also brought up issues they had with specific parts of the bill they found problematic, such as the provision allowing homeowners right to Cure 30 days after a foreclosures sale. Mindy Lehman of the Maryland Bankers Association said Maryland law already provides that right up until one day before the foreclosure sale.
“Injecting this 30-day Right to Cure after foreclosure sale would inject massive uncertainty into the market,” she said. “It’s very difficult to imagine someone coming to buy a foreclosed property at sale if they couldn’t be guaranteed ownership of that property.”
State housing officials say the spike in foreclosures is due to the clearing of backlogged cases from the 2010 foreclosure moratorium. They say they expect the number of foreclosures to moderate in the coming months.
A vote from the Senate Judiciary Committee on SB0755 had yet to come down as of deadline for this story. A House version of the emergency moratorium bill, HB1322,was filed by Delegate Aisha Braveboy (D-25). The House Environmental Matters Committee gave the bill an unfavorable report Monday, killing it for this session.