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RI mayor signs rules to slow city foreclosures

More than 2,000 homes have been foreclosed upon in Rhode Island's capital city since the beginning of 2008, and city officials say most of the people who have lost their homes are renters.
/ Source: PhillyBurbs.com

More than 2,000 homes have been foreclosed upon in Rhode Island's capital city since the beginning of 2008, and city officials say most of the people who have lost their homes are renters.Mayor David Cicilline on Thursday signed two city ordinances designed to protect renters who live in homes foreclosed upon, and to make it harder for banks to foreclose by requiring the institutions to enter mediation with homeowners. He said it was crucial for the city to act because a foreclosed and vacant home affects not just the family that lived there, but also the neighborhood in the form of increased crime and lower property values and, ultimately, less money to the city in taxes."The impact is devastating," the mayor said.Pamela Page was living in the top two floors of a two-family home with her four children and grandson when it was foreclosed upon in January 2008. She continued to pay rent to the landlord for months as he told her not to believe the notices coming in the mail. Once she learned the truth, she started looking for a new home, but it wasn't easy with so many children.As she searched, basic household services were jeopardized. The water was shut off, turned back on again after she paid a portion of her landlord's bill, then turned back off a few days later. It was off for nearly a week before the city intervened."That was like torture for us," she said.Under one of the ordinances, whoever takes over the property must continue to pay for essential services such as water and heat. It also requires that renters be allowed to stay in a foreclosed property for the duration of their lease, and requires that the bank notify tenants in writing of the new owner's name and address so they know where to pay rent.The other ordinance, modeled in part on a program enacted last year in Philadelphia, would reject deeds filed by lenders who foreclosed upon a property without going through mediation. To transfer ownership of a property, a deed must be filed with the city.Cicilline said the city was still working out how the plan would work, but that Rhode Island Housing, a quasi-public state agency, had already agreed to provide housing counselors to mediate agreements. He said the city did not yet know how much it would cost to administer. But "the cost of not doing it is much greater," he said.Cicilline said he had met many times with lenders about the programs."I don't have any reason to believe that banks will mount a legal challenge," Cicilline said. "I expect that we will have a working partnership."Still, while community groups such as the Urban League were represented at Thursday's signing, there were no bankers' groups in attendance. The Rhode Island Bankers Association told The Providence Journal this month that it did not believe the city could impose rules on mortgages past what the state requires.Housing advocates and city Councilman Kevin Jackson, who wrote the ordinances, said they would push for similar rules in other cities and legislation at the state level.