People as Props and People as People
Politicians like to surround themselves with the real-life stories of people who have been helped by their policies. In some ways, this is great because it reminds everybody that whatever wonky policy is being discussed. It’s also sort of crappy because it means that people get trotted out sort of like props.
I saw something awesome earlier today. The State Attorney General, mayor, and a bunch of other elected folks did a round table discussion of their foreclosure prevention efforts. The idea was to talk about the program and then pat each other on the back for an hour. (“Thank you.” “No, thank you" "Isn’t it nice that we’re so good?") (I’m a bit cynical about the endeavor—but in the case of the Attorney General, some serious back patting is deserved. Most of you know Martha Coakley as the Senate candidate whose loss to Scott Brown opened the door for Elizabeth Warren a couple years later. As it turns out, she’s been a fantastic Attorney General for Massachusetts.)
In this case, the homeowner they invited to be on the panel gave them more than they had bargained for. She told her story beautifully. Then she sat politely while others talked. But at some point the discussion turned to the homeowners who continued living in their homes after a foreclosure sale because “the banks hadn’t gotten around to evicting them.”
The problem with all this talk is that in many (most) of those cases, the foreclosures were so flawed that the banks can’t evict the homeowner because the homeowner still owns the house. If you’re in that situation in Massachusetts and you want to keep your home, you have every legal right to challenge the validity of the sale. In practice, this means you live in your home until the bank decides to see reason and works out a way that you can resume making payments.
The low-income homeowner knew her stuff. (She’s an active member of one of the more effective community-led anti-foreclosure groups in the country.) So when people started talk about how they would never advise people to stay in their homes after foreclosure, she spoke up and let everybody know that in Massachusetts only a judge can evict you and that if you want to fight for your home, you should stay in it.
And she was right. Things had worked well for her because she hadn’t given up. Her case isn’t unique.