Ore. pushing to…

Ore. pushing to get foreclosure mediation in place

March 19, 2012, 11:53 a.m. PDT
Statesman Journal

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon officials hoping to save more than 10,000 homeowners from foreclosure face a tight deadline to get a counseling and mediation program ramped up.

They also face questions about whether there are enough counselors and mediators.

Earlier this month, the Legislature passed a bill requiring lenders to sit down with homeowners who request mediation, the Salem Statesman Journal (http://stjr.nl/ydDLpR) reported.

The attorney general’s office will have about three months to get the program in place, and the paper said the experience of other states suggests it will have to be tweaked after that.

“For every day we don’t have this program in place, it’s a homeowner that’s not going to have an opportunity to speak with their lender as a way to avoid foreclosure,” said Associate Attorney General Keith Dubanevich, chief of staff in the office.

The program is aimed at homeowners like Michelle Nicholson of Keizer, a mother of five who fought for three years to save her home and qualified for a loan modification with the help of a housing counselor from the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation.

“I was just beside myself. My kids grew up here, and I loved my community and neighborhood,” she said. “Without housing counseling, I probably would have given up.”

Oregon has 17 community mediation programs, but an estimate of the number of mediators isn’t available, the Oregon Mediation Association said.

There are 26 foreclosure counselors who meet the new law’s requirements for federal certification, the state Housing and Community Services agency reported.

“Right now, I think most of the foreclosure counseling agencies statewide are at their max capacity in terms of the staff they currently have, and we’re definitely expecting some sort of an increase,” said Emily Reiman, the manager of the department that oversees the housing counseling program at the Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation.

Skepticism about the effectiveness of mediation and counseling has given way as more states enact mediation programs with clearer guidelines and stronger enforcement mechanisms.

“It is now clear that these measures have worked,” said a National Consumer Law Center report released in February. “Foreclosure mediation and conference programs can save homes from foreclosure.”

Oregon’s foreclosure mediation bill is similar to a 2009 Nevada law praised by the U.S. Department of Justice and the National Consumer Law Center for its success rate.

From September 2009 to December 2011, Nevada completed 15,248 mediations through its program, with a large majority resulting in no foreclosure.

Verise Campbell, deputy director of Nevada’s mediation program, said it started quickly. The state trained and hired mediators incrementally, she said, starting with about three dozen mediators. Almost immediately, there was a backlog of more than 3,000 cases, and more mediators and staff members had to be hired. Now Nevada has about 218 trained mediators in its program.

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