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Oakland County treasurers fight foreclosures

December 01, 2010 - With 273 homes currently in foreclosure in Independence Township, Independence Township Treasurer is teaming up with treasurers across Oakland County to help fight mortgage foreclosures through the Oakland County Foreclosure Prevention Initiative (OCFPI).

"What we're trying to do is help people keep their homes," said Independence Township Treasurer Curt Carson. "There are a lot of folks that are either low income or fixed income and they're in a tough situation."

The OCFPI was started about six months after Oakland County Treasurer Andy Meisner took office in 2009. The program was up and running about January or February this year.

"The reason why this problem is of particular interest to me as the county treasurer and to Curt as the Independence Township Treasurer is that when you have a foreclosure, very often that home becomes abandoned and neglected and it becomes a drain on property values," Meisner said. "As property values go down the tax revenues that are based on those property values go down as well. That hurts the county, the city and the state's ability to provide some pretty important services."

Meisner said his office acts as the "intake." He has a full-time person reviewing the cases everyday, which are being referred and handled by one of the major housing counseling agencies in Oakland County including: Oakland County Community and Home Improvement, Lighthouse of Oakland County, OLHSA and JVS, and GreenPath Debt Solutions.

"We communicate with the housing counseling agencies to see how the cases are coming. If one of the mortgage lenders is not being cooperative, then I might give them a call," he said. "I'm investing about a billion dollars at about any given time on behalf of Oakland County. Frankly, that gives me some leverage and I'm not shy about giving them a call, insisting this or that case gets at least their fair consideration."

Meisner said they try to negotiate with the mortgage company to try and lower the interest rate or spread the payments over a longer period of time, but "if a family has stretched a little too far for the American Dream and got into a little more house than they should" than they will work with the homeowner on a "dignified exit."

"A dignified exit might include doing a short sale where we get the mortgage lender to agree to a sale of the home for less than what is owed on the mortgage or another option would be a deed in lieu of foreclosure," he said. "In other words the homeowner simply transfers the deed back to the mortgage company and walks away free and clear."

He also noted as they also try to figure out if homeowners were victims of "predatory lending" or people with good credit got steered into a "subprime loan."

Meisner said foreclosures have already had both a major impact on both the county's budget as well as the stability of neighborhoods.

"I just think it's one of the most serious problems we face, that's why we're devoting resources and time to try and deal with this problem," he said. "We're proud to have organizations like the United Way that are willing to help us out."

To apply for the initiative or for more information, visit www.fightmortgage or call Oakland Treasurer's office at 248-858-0627 or the United Way's social safety net by dialing 211.

"I think any help we can provide any citizen that's struggling is a good thing because there are people from every sector of the pay scale of income that are finding themselves in a tough position," Carson said. "Whatever we can do to help save them, and save the property values in the area works out for everybody."

Trevor graduated with degrees in English and communications from Rochester College. He wrote for his college and LA View newspapers before joining The Clarkston News in May 2007.
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