Jade Brown, 43, is a physical therapist from Maui. She lives with her husband in a small home on the slopes of Haleakala, a “fixer-upper” she’s spent the last eight years making perfect.
Jeanie Vance, 54, is a Realtor who operates a legal insurance business, also on Maui. She has three children, she’s a grandmother, and she lives with her 85-year-old mother in a two-story home in Kihei.
Both flew from Maui to spend the day at the Hawaii Legislature Wednesday, pleading with lawmakers to show compassion.
Brown and Vance are losing their homes, dominos falling in the wake of the national recession, unable to pay their mortgages, like thousands of others in Hawaii.
The Legislature is weighing a bill to place a moratorium on foreclosures in Hawaii, pending federal investigations into how lenders are carrying out foreclosures. On Wednesday afternoon, the House Consumer Protection and Commerce committee held a joint hearing with the Judiciary committee to consider HB894, a moratorium bill. That morning, the Senate committee on Commerce and Consumer Protection held a hearing for SB576, which would make it mandatory for lenders to mediate foreclosures.
Foreclosures in Honolulu rose 39.5 percent in 2010 compared to 2009, according to Pacific Business News. Since 2008, Honolulu has seen a 238 percent increase. In total, 5,561 properties in Honolulu received foreclosure notices last year.
“My biggest goal today is to end the myth that it’s the deadbeat borrower who is responsible for this mortgage crisis,” Brown, the Maui physical therapist, told Civil Beat. “And to do everything I can to educate both the Legislature and the public that wrongful foreclosure is not just alleged, it is occurring across the county.”
Executive Director Gary Fujitani of the Hawaii Bankers Association opposed both bills. He told Civil Beat they will ultimately hurt homeowners.
“Moratoriums have been considered by various state Legislatures, local municipalities and of course the federal government,” Fujitani said. “If it’s any testament, none of them were successful in being passed because if you look at the broader policy question, what does this really do, those people will be the casualties of any moratorium where maybe mortgage lending stops for a while. Because all of the sudden, that changes the dynamics of making a mortgage loan.”
“From a policy perspective, I’m not sure if that’s the right message to be sending to banks or mortgage lenders that the state of Hawaii will place a moratorium any time they feel, for whatever reason, it’s appropriate to do so,” Fujitani said.
“Maybe the cooling off period should be, once you file a foreclosure, there is a period of time before you initiate the foreclosure. That’s to me, much more preferable than an outright ban that you cannot file a foreclosure.”
Fujitani said the problem isn’t so much the mortgage foreclosure process, it’s that there is bad communication between some lenders and borrowers. He doesn’t believe mediation is the answer either.
“If you can’t pay, you can’t pay,” Fujitani said. “I feel for them. But the reality is that as a bank, we have an obligation to make sure we collect loans. And before we do that, we’re going to work our darndest to make sure we can keep people in their homes. I mean that’s the right thing to do.”
Brown told Civil Beat she and her husband bought their home in Kula in 2003. In 2008, her income started to slip. So did that of her husband, a piano teacher.
“We had never, ever been late on a payment before. We struggled but we were going to keep our house. We love our home.”
She says when she heard of President Obama’s Making Home Affordable program, she was “shocked that there was help.” The plan is intended to help those qualified to modify their mortgages to make them more affordable.
Brown says she called her loan servicer and said she wanted to apply for the modification. The servicer told Brown she needed to be late on a mortgage payment to qualify.
“We had never been late before on our payment, but we trusted them because it’s a government program,” Brown said. “(Our lender) told us we needed to be delinquent on our loan in order to get this modification. So we did it. And it was scary to do because we had a flawless record. We worked hard, this was so important to us. Our home is everything.”
Brown says a few months passed and she and her husband were put on a modified payment plan. A $2,400 mortgage was reduced to $1,500 monthly. The plan was supposed to last for three months but it dragged on for a year, the servicer claiming it needed updated paperwork or more time, Brown said.
Then, unexpectedly, Brown’s servicer said she no longer qualified to keep her mortgage.
“We’re sitting ducks,” Brown said. “We’re not currently in foreclosure but we have no modified payment. We have no agreement. They will not take a payment unless we cure the loan now, which is all those back payments for when we were in the modified (period).”
Brown says she and her husband have hired an attorney. But, in the meantime, she is fighting to enact legislation that may help those struggling with foreclosure.
Vance’s situation is similar to Brown’s. She saw her income drop at the beginning of the recession and is in limbo, waiting to see if she can find a way to keep her house, which she says she could have sold a couple of years ago for $850,000 and is now worth $400,000.
“I bought my home eight years ago after living in it for about two years,” Vance said. “I purchased the home. I had every reason to believe I’d be able to live up to my obligation. I had excellent credit. I was qualified financially with my income and so on and when the market started to go down, we got hit really hard just like the rest of the country.
“I’m probably making a fifth of what I was making. So I was no longer able to keep up. I got a couple months behind and then they stopped accepting any payments. Then it regressed because I couldn’t do the makeup into actual foreclosure. And I have been in foreclosure for over two and a half years.”
The moratorium on foreclosures was amended to limit it to five months and approved by the committee. A decision on mandatory mediations was deferred until Friday. It will be heard in conference room 229 at 10 a.m.