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City’s Anti-Foreclosure Rules Stand

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Aggressive regulations passed by the Springfield City Council to address that city’s significant foreclosure problem have survived an effort to water them down.

Councilors passed the pair of ordinances in 2011 in response to concern over the effects of Springfield’s high foreclosure rate, among the highest in Massachusetts in recent years. One required lenders to participate in city-facilitated mediation with homeowners before foreclosing on properties; the other required them to post $10,000 bonds for foreclosed houses, to ensure that they maintain the vacant buildings. Supporters said the ordinances would help keep struggling families in their homes and help prevent neighborhood blight when vacant houses fall into disrepair, and touted the regulations as models for other communities to follow.

The Mass. Bankers Association sued over the ordinances, saying they violated state and federal law, and the city held off on enforcing them. Last summer, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Ponsor upheld the requirements, finding that the city’s Law Department 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.”

The bankers’ group appealed Ponsor’s decision, and the two sides entered mediation, which resulted in a proposed settlement: the Bankers Association would drop the lawsuit if the city eliminated the $10,000 bond requirement, instead replacing it with a requirement that lenders register vacant properties with the city and identify a local property manager. Last week, the Council voted unanimously against amending the ordinances. The Bankers Association is expected to pursue its legal appeal.•

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