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Court Lets Anti-Foreclosure Rules Stand

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

A federal judge last week upheld a pair of tough anti-foreclosure ordinances passed last year by a unanimous Springfield City Council.

The ordinances, which were sponsored by then-Ward 6 City Councilor Amaad Rivera, were designed to address the problems created by the high number of home foreclosures in Springfield. The city saw 175 foreclosures in the first four months of this year, according to The Warren Group, a Boston real estate data firm. During the same period in 2011, there were 104 foreclosures in the city. In 2010, there were more foreclosures in Springfield—595—than in any other Massachusetts community.

One of the ordinances requires that mortgage lenders participate in city-facilitated mediation processes to determine whether property owners who can afford market-rate mortgages, or were fraudulently foreclosed on, can stay in their homes.

The second requires a lender who has foreclosed on a home to put up a $10,000 bond to ensure that it will maintain the vacant property, rather than let it fall into disrepair.

The Mass. Bankers Association protested the requirements, arguing that the Council had overstepped its authority and that the ordinances violate state and federal law. Late last year, a group of local banks sued the city over the ordinances.

But in last week's ruling, U.S. District Court judge Michael Ponsor called the ordinances a "modest effort by the city to soften this crisis" and said the ordinances violate neither federal or state law.

"Widespread mortgage foreclosures undisputably [sic] are an issue of serious public concern to municipalities like Springfield," wrote Ponsor, who also found that city attorneys had "made a sufficient showing that the Foreclosure Ordinance was necessary to protect a basic societal interest, was tailored appropriately to that purpose, and imposed reasonable conditions."

While the ordinances officially went into effect late last year, they've yet to be enforced, since the city was awaiting a resolution to the banks' lawsuit. With the court now affirming their validity, activists and affected homeowners are eager to see them applied. Last week, the anti-foreclosure group Springfield No One Leaves/Nadie Se Mude and other supporters rallied outside City Hall and then delivered a letter to Mayor Domenic Sarno asking him to begin implementing the ordinances.

"We've been ready to move on this since last summer, and we continue to be ready to work with the city to take our city back," Malcolm Chu, an organizer with SNOL, said in a press release after Ponsor's ruling. "We expect the mayor and the city to move quickly to enforce this ordinance and look forward to being involved in the process."

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