As we do each year, this July 4th most Americans took a moment to reflect on the freedoms and blessings that serve as the foundation of the American Dream.
From even before the time of our Founding Fathers, part of the dream to be found in the then-distant land of America was the promise of one day owning a piece of land a person could call their own--a place to live and grow and raise a family. In more recent times, the dream of home ownership has become enshrined as a defining part of the modern American Dream.
For millions of Americans, the dream of homeownership has been under assault since the devastating worldwide financial meltdown that began in 2007.
Since then more than four million U.S. homeowners, 750,000 of them in California, have been foreclosed on.
While foreclosure rates in my Senate district have mercifully been nowhere near those of the most affected areas of California, this is still little consolation to the more than 9,500 homeowners in District 27 that have lost their homes in the past five years.
To help homeowners, the California Legislature passed two key components of the nation's first Homebuyers Bill of Rights on July 1.
These measures include consumer protections and lending regulations that safeguard the primary residences of California homebuyers from some of the worst practices of the lending industry that occurred all too often during the run-up of the state's foreclosure crisis.
Among other provisions, the bills will ban the practice of so-called "dual tracking" by requiring lenders to immediately halt foreclosure proceedings once a borrower completes a loan modification application; establish civil fines up to $7,500 for lenders filing unverified documents, also known as robo-signing; and, give borrowers the right to sue for damages over material violations of the law.
One key measure in the legislation requires large mortgage lenders to assign a single point of contact for homeowners wishing to discuss refinancing their homes with their lenders. This contact person will have access to the homeowner’s loan information and be able to directly access the person who will make the refinancing decision.
This provision alone would save a considerable amount of frustration and long wait times for decisions on refinancing requests as homeowners currently have to speak to many different people--often people who know nothing about the homeowner's files.
Also, it will prevent the all too common situation where lenders continue with the foreclosure process while homeowners who have discussed or applied for mortgage refinancing or short sale are waiting for responses from the same lenders.
These measures will not curtail every predatory practice by large lenders, and other measures are pending in the Legislature to deal with other problems, but this is a good first step to assuring that the American Dream doesn't become a nightmare for California homeowners.