Realtors and residents debate Richmond’s eminent domain plan

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Last Night’s gathering at the Police Activities League was pegged as a “debate” on the pros and cons of the city’s plan to buy or seize 624 underwater mortgages.

But only the opponents’ spokesman showed up. Nevertheless, even though he had the field to himself, Realtor Jeff Wright faced a tough audience.

“It’s not the city’s place to interfere in an agreement between a borrower and a lender,” Wright said. “You can’t blame the banks for having a product and selling it.”

Wright is a representative for the Western Contra Costa Association of Realtors (WCCAR). In recent weeks, the WCCAR has blanketed the city with flyers criticizing the city’s eminent domain plan. The association’s campaign is being funded, in part, by more than $70,000 from the California Association of Realtors and the National Associations of Realtors.

Wright was supposed to face off against Stephen Gluckster, the president of Mortgage Resolution Partners, the investment firm that’s partnered with the city to try and seize underwater mortgages. Gluckster was unable to attend the event. Mayor Gayle McLaughlin was invited to speak, but she declined.

Wright spent much of the evening attacking the city’s plan. “Part of the drive to move forward with this is blight,” said Wright. Proponents of the proposal say that if homes go into foreclosure, it will hurt neighborhoods and cost $25 million in mitigation costs. “As far as I’m concerned though, you can’t make the blight argument [because] just about every property that comes on the market today gets sold.”

Wright added that MRP, and their “Wall Street investors,” stand to profit from the plan, while homeowners will suffer.

Many have accused Wright, and the WCCAR, of spreading misinformation. “There’s a lot of people underwater, and they would love to feel confident that they can keep their homes,” said Marvin Webb, an audience member, and minister at Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church in Richmond. There are 1,468 private label mortgages in Richmond— meaning they’re bundled and sold to private investors. In 2011, Fannie Mae estimated that half of them would result in foreclosure.

“I’ve been in a position where I was close to losing a home,” said Webb. “This plan is going to free up money so people will be able to pay their taxes, pay more into the community, and just be more involved.”

The Securities Industries and Financial Markets Association said that if Richmond follows through with its plan, it might raise borrowing costs. The Federal Housing Finance Agency has also said that the plan poses a threat to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which may restrict or cease business activities in the area if the city moves forward.

Yesterday, a coalition of fair housing and civil rights groups filed an amicus brief in federal court, alleging that such actions by the securitization industry would amount to redlining, because they would disproportionately affect African Americans and Latinos.

Tonight, the City Council will decide on the next steps for its eminent domain plan. Councilman Tom Butt said, “There are some potential problems with the proposal, and if those problems become insurmountable, the council will do what it needs to do. But I don’t think we’re at that point yet.”

3 Comments

  1. I thought that Mr. Wright handled himself quite well in presenting information to the five or six dozen of us who attended. All along many of us have been asking questions about this program and we really haven’t gotten responses to these questions so it was nice to get more information.

    Like most people, I like to make informed decisions and having enough information to make those informed decisions is important to me.

    As it is with any other issue, it’s incumbent upon each of us to know what to do with that information–what to accept and what to reject. Such is the case with this issue.

    What I fear is that people’s emotions are getting the better of them and they’re not basing their decisions on much more than an emotional responses and a hatred for big business.

    I want to thank Mr. Wright for his presentation last night. I only wish that someone–anyone–from MRA, the Mayor’s Office or from Councilwoman Beckles’ camp could have been there to counter the information that Mr. Wright gave us. Isn’t getting information from both sides of an issue always better than getting things from just one side?

  2. Mary Canavan

    I don’t understand how this will benefit those who need it most. The only properties that will be considered belong to owners who are employed with good credit in order to qualify for the lower mortgage. It will not help those who are in trouble from medical bills or being laid off. And, will those who benefit from the lower mortgage be eligible for the tax break that comes with mortgage relief in the form of a regular bank foreclosure or short sale? If the proponents were a non-profit looking to fill an unmet need, I might find them more credible. But they are a hedge fund group, looking for a new source of profit, and this is easy pickings. They will then funnel these homeowners to move into government backed new loans.

  3. John C

    I’m not from the city of Richmond,….but it amazes
    me , with similar debates going on across the
    country, how many people keep citing things like
    “keep government out of business”.
    Where were these folks when our U.S. tax dollars
    bailed out Wall Street and the Banksters who
    drove our economy into this recession?
    Talk about WELFARE!
    Why didn’t you complain about government getting
    involved in business when thieving bankers on Wall
    Street got billions in tax-funded welfare handouts
    (called a bailout) after they broke mortgage laws,
    defrauded investors, took “RISK” with everyone’s
    money and lost. They not only got rewarded for
    losing , they took huge, lump-sum bonuses for
    themselves out of the bailout money. Our
    economy would be BOOMING if that same
    billion$$$ in government welfare money and
    bonuses were given to individual homeowners and
    the many victims of their predatory lending and
    illegal, fraudulent investing.

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