SEATTLE CITY COUNCIL Theyre just totally useless.
  • Home foreclosure/
  • SEATTLE CITY COUNCIL "They're just totally useless."

So far, the Seattle City Council's approach to tackling the problem of illegal or unethical foreclosures by the banks has been a big fat can of nothing. Foreclosures—and foreclosure vultures—destroy people's lives. But a preliminary report by a city task force to the city council last week only downplayed the problem. The group will finalize its report in June, but unless it takes seriously the severity of the issue, don't expect it to offer any real solutions.

"The banks are violating the law all the time. The crisis is not over," Northwest Justice Project attorney Lili Sotelo told the council towards the end of the session, in response to comments by the task force's main presenters—two members of the city's Office of Housing, who labored through their presentation amid questioning by a clearly frustrated council member Nick Licata and yells of protest by homeowners in the audience. If you need a reminder of malfeasance by the banks, here's yet another example: Wells Fargo (which is the bank used by the city of Seattle) was accused last week of instructing its lawyers on how to fabricate missing documents in order to foreclose and boot people from their homes.

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  • ANTI-FORECLOSURE PROTESTERS Outside a Beacon Hill Bank of America on a chilly December evening.

Here's the task force's presentation (PDF). It reviews statistics from real estate firms showing that the housing market is rebounding and rules out the possibility of the city using eminent domain to purchase mortgages—somehow the City Council of Irvington, California voted 6 to 1 to do just that last week—as legally unfeasible. Instead, its primary recommendations are that existing services collaborate better and do more to reach out to homeowners.

Mayor Murray, for his part, spoke at a dinner gathering of local mortgage bankers on March 18 and delivered the following message, according to spokesman Jeff Reading: "The Mayor doesn’t support the idea and made a clear statement that the City, at least for the next four years, would not be using eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages."

"There's no arguing with the fact that foreclosures have diminished in Washington and across the country," Sotelo told me later, "but we're still at elevated levels of foreclosures [compared to pre-recession levels]...The numbers don't tell the full story. Services like mine are getting a steady number of calls or an increase. Outreach is always important, but outreach can't solve the problem."

"Our feeling with this is that we had the last three months wasted," said Chris Genese, an anti-foreclosure activist with Washington CAN. "The IDT did not come back with any solutions around principal reduction or anything at the necessary scale to prevent foreclosures around the city."

And Josh Farris, an organizer from Standing Against Foreclosure And Eviction (SAFE), was more blunt about the council's ineffectiveness when it comes to protecting distressed homeowners—disproportionately low-income and minority residents—from the banks: "They're just totally useless, man."