monopoly_money.jpgThree San Francisco supervisors and Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting today called for legislative action to assist homeowners facing foreclosure and seek restitution from banks whose actions fueled the crisis.

Supervisors John Avalos, Malia Cohen and Ross Mirkarimi joined Ting at City Hall today to talk about solutions for the foreclosure crisis in San Francisco, which is primarily affecting the south and southeast parts of the city where low-income residents live.

There have been more than 12,400 foreclosures in the city since 2008, and Cohen said more than 3,000 were in District 10, the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhoods that she represents.

Cohen said being foreclosed on is “a dehumanizing experience” that also has a destabilizing effect on the neighborhood since abandoned homes can often be a magnet for squatters or illegal activity.

A recent report commissioned by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and the California Reinvestment Coalition found that there are also 16,355 homeowners in the city who are “underwater,” meaning that more money is owed on a mortgage than a home is worth.

Avalos said he is one of those homeowners, and said people seeing their wealth decline after buying a home leads to “terrible decisions about whether we can stay or have to move out of San Francisco, and that is wealth leaving our community … and we have to protect it.”

He said requiring banks to write down mortgages to only require the payment of a home’s current worth would infuse the city and its residents with millions of dollars and stimulate the economy.

Ting said the foreclosure crisis, which began around 2008, has led to about $42 million in lost property tax revenue for San Francisco and nearly $7 billion in decreased values of homes.

He said, “We’re going to continue to fight this crisis … and hold these financial institutions accountable.”

One of the proposals Ting and the supervisors called for was a foreclosure fee paid by banks to offset the costs to local and state governments who often have to pay for safety inspections, police calls and maintenance of the foreclosed homes.

Another is a piece of state legislation proposed by Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, that required more transparency from the banks about who actually holds the mortgage since it can often change hands from bank to bank.

“Many homeowners struggle to know who to even talk to,” Ting said.

One such homeowner was Curtis Warren, a single father living in the Bayview who said he was foreclosed on and has had to deal with several different banks and firms to try to avoid eviction.

“Every day I’m waiting … and I’m still in the hole because I don’t know what’s going to happen, and I’m just praying that I can make it through,” Warren said.

Mirkarimi said the change ultimately has to come from the state or federal level since “city government is handicapped from doing as much as we’d like.”

He said while San Francisco has done a good job of helping people after they have been foreclosed on, “we’re not mustering enough resources (to help them) before foreclosure.”

Ting said one of the ways to avoid foreclosure is to educate residents about how not to fall prey to predatory lenders or other scams involving mortgages.

He said people can go to U.S. Housing and Urban Development-sponsored housing counseling agencies, nonprofits that offer advice for people facing foreclosure or other homeowner issues.

San Francisco is also offering a two-day financial hotline next week for people seeking advice.

The SF Financial Advice Line will be available on Sept. 27 and Sept. 28 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. by calling 211.

Dan McMenamin, Bay City News

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