Although the Oregon Legislature wrestled with a number of issues this session, consumer protection was not one of them. Nowhere was lawmakers' collective apathy more evident than in the way Washington and Oregon addressed the growing foreclosure crisis.
Washington enacted the Foreclosure Fairness Act, allowing homeowners to demand a mediation face to face with their lenders before a foreclosure sale. Attorney General Rob McKenna got power to punish lenders who don't follow it. . . . .
Sure, Oregon lawmakers had a lot of hefty issues to tackle, some of which they punted. They passed some needed health reform measures that might, in a few years, save consumers and small businesses money. They improved protections for consumers purchasing long-term health care insurance, mobile homes and free-trial offers that actually end up costing money.
But other states faced the same problems. The failure of Oregon lawmakers to tackle the state's foreclosure crisis, which grew in severity even as lawmakers huddled with lobbyists, certainly raises serious questions about the balance of power in Salem.
In fact, lawmakers actually allowed one key consumer protection -- the right to meet with a lender to modify a mortgage -- to expire at year's end. A committee in the House, where most consumer protection legislation met its death, briefly entertained an end-run by the mortgage industry to retroactively exempt lenders from Oregon recording law. This gut-and-stuff of an affordable housing bill finally ended after a public outcry sent lawmakers scurrying for cover.
"It's very disappointing," said Suzanne Bonamici, D-Cedar Hills, who championed several consumer measures. "I don't know what else I could've done."
Let's set the scene lawmakers ignored. Homeowners have been up in arms with how loan servicers have bungled mortgage modifications promised by the government more than two years ago.
Attorneys general in 50 states are investigating the practices of the nation's largest lenders.
In Oregon, meanwhile, a number of judges have blocked foreclosures, at least once after the fact. They've found lenders in violation of state law for not recording each time a mortgage loan is resold, a securitization system that generated yacht-loads of profits for Wall Street.
The status of foreclosures in the state now hang in serious limbo while a case finds its way to the Oregon Supreme Court. That could take months.
If lenders actually sat down face to face with borrowers and worked out solutions, Oregon's housing market might actually see more life. Instead, big banks are putting off having to record those loan losses on their books. Troubled homeowners are told repeatedly to resend the same information, discover their lender is foreclosing on them at the same time their loan is being modified. . . . .