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Foreclosure prevention efforts bog down in California


Efforts to easeCalifornia’s foreclosure troubles are meeting opposition inSacramento. A rare legislative conference committee called to rescue a pair of stalled foreclosure-prevention bills was bogged down after marathon sessions at the state Capitol, while Gov. Jerry Brown pushed to use some ofCalifornia’s share of the $25-billion national mortgage settlement to plug holes in the state’s budget, angering many housing activists.

Experts feel that reducing foreclosures is key to getting the housing market back on track, however, the way to do that is a constant debate. State Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and others have called for tougher reforms and more help for borrowers, while the banking lobby contends that lawmakers shouldn’t intervene with what appears to be a market recovery.

Harris wants new laws to lock in some of the reforms she and other attorneys general secured from five mega-banks as part of a national legal settlement in February.California’s share of the settlement could climb to as high as $18 billion.

Banks, loan servicers, and allies in the real estate industry fear that Harris’ proposals go too far when the housing market is on a modest upswing. FewerCaliforniahomeowners are falling behind on their mortgages, and foreclosures, though still high, are at their lowest levels since 2008, according to industry surveys. Nearly 354,000Californiamortgages are delinquent, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Large banks are pushing back against a Harris proposal to give homeowners the right to sue when not all required steps in foreclosure actions are taken. They also oppose a requirement that they delay foreclosures when borrowers have asked for a loan modification to lower their monthly payments.

Banks are a powerful lobby inSacramento. Derek Cressman, western states director for government watchdog Common Cause, comments, “The underlying reality is that the banks and mortgage brokers have the wherewithal to make significant campaign contributions. That puts the thumb on the scale.”

The banks’ complaints gained weight when the federal government’s chief home-loan regulator warned committee members that some of Harris’ proposals are too broad and could lead to more homeowner lawsuits.

Aside from bank opposition, Harris’ faces opposition from Gov. Jerry Brown who wants to use the cash to trim a $16 billion deficit in his proposed 2012-2013 fiscal year budget.

The affordable housing group Enterprise Community Partners had found that only 27 states were putting all of their settlement money toward housing initiatives.

Legislative leaders said they’re unlikely to prevent Brown from taking the settlement money.

Getting bills out of the conference committee and approved by the two houses of the Legislature could hinge on the vote of one key lawmaker. Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello). Calderon has earned a reputation for being a conservative pro-business Democrat. A no vote by Calderon—combined with likely no votes from the two Republican members of the conference committee—would doom the two foreclosure bills, AB 278 and SB 900.

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