As all 50 U.S. attorneys general launched a joint investigation into massive foreclosure fraud — robosigning, which was covering up the underlying problem that after all the slicing and dicing, financial institutions actually don’t have the proper documentation on properties on which they’re trying to foreclose — the Florida State Legislature was launching a $9.6 million effort intended to unclog the court system by establishing foreclosures-only courts across the state. The program, which is staffed by retired judges, began in July, and aims to reduce the foreclosures backlog by 62 percent within the year. The problem, many housing advocates say, is that judges were already sending properties off to auction with alarming zeal. “Now you show up and you get whatever judge is on the schedule and they have not looked at the file — they don’t even look at the motions,” said April Charney, a lawyer with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid told The New York Times. “You get a five-minute hearing. It’s a factory.”
Given the recent revelations of flawed foreclosure documents, it seems that closer inspection of the filings is actually what’s called for, not more rubber stamping. Maybe as lenders call a voluntary suspension, the Florida courts will be able to catch up on their own.
It’s a tricky balance to strike — no one wants the banks to get away with fraud or kick people out of their homes illegally. But while there’s much criticism of President Obama’s unwillingness to engage in a national foreclosure moratorium, what would such a freeze mean for groups that acquire foreclosed properties for the purpose of stabilizing neighborhoods? Many houses in foreclosure are already empty. Would a moratorium result in a glut of non-foreclosed vacant houses stuck in limbo and dragging down their neighborhoods?
Plus, how many homeowners will choose to fight for their homes? A January 2010 Florida Supreme Court order requiring foreclosure mediation by third parties before the courts get involved has had tepid success: fewer than half of the more than 64,000 homeowners facing foreclosure have responded to contact by mediators. according to a report in Miami Today.