This year's legislative session was the hardest for me and for most lawmakers, even those who have been serving for many years. The budget cuts we had to make in virtually every area were heartwrenching but, in the end, some really good things also came out of Olympia.
The media has already reported on stories of real people getting real help from the Foreclosure Fairness Program launched July 22. Every time I come across one of these stories I am reassured that our work to pass this law was definitely worthwhile.
Last summer I met four people in my district who live on the same block and all of them were facing foreclosure. All four of them, as well as many others, were finding it hard to navigate the foreclosure process. They were given the runaround and found it nearly impossible to get answers from the banks. The process was unfair. Something had to be done.
Something also had to be done because the statistics were alarming. In just two years over 77,000 families lost their homes, which means Washington state went from 25th to 10th in the nation in foreclosures. In fact, between 2009 and 2012 more than 132,000 home loans will be foreclosed in our state. It's true: RealtyTrac reported that in August there were 932 new foreclosures just in King County.
It's pretty evident that what we have in front of us are the new faces of foreclosure. This is not something that happens to other people. Your family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers or even you can be at risk of losing your home. Homeowners are under tremendous stress and our housing market is flooded with properties, many of which remain empty for a long time. And once they do sell it's often at reduced rates, which negatively impact the value of other homes in the area.
So I worked with stakeholders on a new system to help homeowners stay in their homes whenever possible, and to help them reach a resolution faster, instead of having to wait 12 to 16 months. My bill, dubbed the Foreclosure Fairness Act of 2011, received bipartisan support and was signed by the Governor April 14.
The new law created the Foreclosure Fairness Program to provide desperately needed solutions to the 45,000 families expected to receive foreclosure notices this year.
The new law brings banks and homeowners to the table to explore alternatives to foreclosure. It requires lenders to notify borrowers of the availability of foreclosure counseling and the potential for mediation prior to foreclosure. Foreclosure counseling is helping homeowners understand all of their options and determine the best course of action.
Adding housing counselors and third-party mediation to the foreclosure process levels the playing field between homeowners and mortgage lenders. And having the opportunity to sit down face-to-face with the bank gives struggling homeowners a real chance to work out the best possible outcome for their specific situation.
This program is the perfect example of a responsive government. People were desperately asking for help, so we got to work on solutions and now it's a reality. We have the Foreclosure Fairness Program that homeowners need. n
To learn more about what this new program has to offer, please visit the Department of Commerce's Foreclosure Fairness Program website: commerce.wa.gov/site/1367/default.aspx or call Washington's foreclosure prevention hotline: 1.877.894.HOME (1.877.894.4663).