Richmond’s plan to seize underwater mortgages through eminent domain has come under sharp criticism. Opponents claim that the plan could depress property values, and end up costing the city millions of dollars in lost revenues and legal fees. The West Contra Costa Association of Realtors (WCCAR), which is receiving financial backing from the California Realtors Association, is the latest to join the fray.
In mid-August, WCCAR began the campaign, “Stop Investor Greed,” which is trying to create opposition to the city’s eminent domain plan. Nearly all registered voters in Richmond received a pamphlet in the mail from the group, urging them to oppose the city’s plan. Many people also received phone calls, emails, and Facebook messages.
The campaign is organized by the consulting firm Brown, Mosher, Whithurst, Lowell, & Partners, which also ran the anti-soda tax campaign in 2012. Some residents say the soda controversy divided the city.
According to a representative from the California Association of Realtors, Stop Investor Greed is being financed, in part, by a $70,000 grant from the association. As of late last week, $45,000 had already been spent. The California Association of Realtors also said that WCCAR sought money from the National Association of Realtors, although the national association was unable to return requests for comment.
Supporters of the city’s eminent domain plan charge that outside interests have become entangled in Richmond politics. “This is a community that has come up with a solution to the mortgage crisis that’s in their own control,” said Amy Schur, executive director of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), a statewide organization that supports the city’s plan. “How shameful is it that some of these state and national association are trying to mettle and interfere with that.”
Jeff Wright, an independent real estate agent who’s working with Stop Investor Greed, said that if Richmond seizes underwater mortgages, the entire industry might suffer. “This is important across the board,” said Wright. “When there are serious issues, that have broad implications for the industry as a whole, we reach out to the (state and federal) associations, and they respond.”
Chuck Finnie, vice president of media and communications at BMWL & Partners also said that it’s important for Richmond residents to learn about the dangers inherent in invoking eminent domain. “Not only will this plan freeze up the residential credit market, it’s also making it fairly difficult, if not impossible, for the city to conduct its normal municipal borrowing practices,” he said. “This thing is a house of cards that’s about to come down.”
So far only 45 people have signed the group’s petition asking elected officials to abandon the eminent domain plan. Some of those signatures came from employees at BMWL & Partners.
Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles said Richmond residents are tired of being deceived by big money. “The soda companies did it, they came here and told outright lies,” said Beckles. “Now bankers and realtors are coming in with lies too. But once it’s all over, they’ll leave us with no viable solutions to our problems. We won’t be deceived this time.”
Tonight at 6:30 p.m. Jeff Wright of Stop Investor Greed will discuss the city’s plan to use eminent domain to seize underwater mortgages. It will be at the Police Activities League Gymnasium at 2200 Macdonald Avenue in Richmond.