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New tips for voting while in foreclosure

A new report highlights the confusion that people who’ve lost homes to foreclosure feel when determining how they can cast a ballot this November, and lays out ways to protect their voting rights.

The Fair Elections Legal Network’s report, “Lose Your Home, Keep Your Vote: How to Protect Voters Caught Up in Foreclosure,” is accompanied by guides tailored to 15 states – including California – on how and where people can vote depending on where they are in the foreclosure process.

“Voting is the foundation of our democracy. People dealing with the foreclosure process or whose homes have been foreclosed upon have enough to deal with without worrying about their vote counting,” network president Robert Brandon said in a news release. “With foreclosures on the rise again, the question shouldn’t be if a voter facing foreclosure can vote but where that voter can cast their ballot, and that question should be clearly answered by election officials.”

Brandon said election officials “have a duty to make sure voters have the information they need to cast a ballot and have it counted. They should be extra vigilant as Election Day nears to issue directives and educate the public and local election officials on how voters who lost their home can maintain their right to vote.”

California had the highest number of new foreclosure filings last year and, according to RealtyTrac, during the month of June 2012, California had the highest foreclosure rate nationwide this past June.

California has been hit hard by foreclosures in recent years; some areas, including the now-bankrupt city of Stockton, have been devastated. California in August was among the states with the greatest decreases (42 percent) in foreclosure starts compared to one year earlier, according to RealtyTrac, yet still posted the nation’s third highest state foreclosure rate: One in every 340 California housing units had a foreclosure filing in August, which is twice the national average.

And seven of the 10 U.S. metro areas with the most foreclosure activity in August are in California: Modesto, Merced, Bakersfield, Fresno, Stockton, Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, and Chico.

Like all movers, those who facing foreclosure also face hurdles to voting such as needing to update their address and/or re-register to vote in a new jurisdiction. What a particular person must do might depend on where he or she is in the foreclosure process; for example, someone who has lost a home might still have a legal “right of redemption,” a period of time in which they could repurchase their home and during which time they can still vote from that address.

In California and 17 other states, a person can keep voting at the address of their foreclosed home until they establish a new residence in which they intend to remain. In other states, the correct polling place for a foreclosure victim is often more confusing.

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MoveOn is coming to a Bank of America near YOU

Bay Area MoveOn.org activists are joining their brethren across the nation tomorrow in protesting Bank of America sites while the bank – which they blame for cavalierly pursuing foreclosures and dodging taxes after taking a federal bailout – holds its annual shareholder meeting in North Carolina

In the East Bay, protests are scheduled for 9 a.m. at 2129 Shattuck Ave. in Berkeley; 11 a.m. at 241 Oak St. in Brentwood; 11:30 a.m. both at 300 Lakeside Drive in Oakland and at 110 Alamo Plaza in Alamo; and 4 p.m. both at 1200 A St. in Hayward and at 1330 N. Main St. in Walnut Creek.

On the Peninsula, protests are scheduled for noon at 2200 Broadway in Redwood City and 5:30 p.m. at the corner of El Camino Real and Third Avenue in San Mateo. And in the South Bay, a protest is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. at 971 Blossom Hill Road in San Jose.

“B of A’s shameless business practices are out of control,” said Dave Siegel, the Hayward protest’s host. “Their profits have soared while the economy continues to decline and the list of foreclosures grows. And to make matters worse, they’re managing to dodge paying their fair share of taxes. As representatives of the 99 percent, we aren’t going to take it anymore. We’re talking about people’s lives here.”

Activists at the Alamo event intend to present the bank with a notice foreclosing upon its right to use “America” in its name because it has put billions of dollars of profits offshore to avoid taxes, yet accepted federal bailout money.

“Unfortunately, it’s all legal,” said TriValley MoveOn Council Leader Karen Beck, “but unpatriotic. That is why we are asking B of A to change its name.”

Possible alternative names, she said, include “Bank of Off Shore Profits,” “Bank of Tax Dodgers” and “Bank of Bailouts.”

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House members urge Obama to act on housing

More than two dozen California House Democrats – including almost the entire Bay Area delegation, and led by three Bay Area members – have urged President Barack Obama to make a recess appointment that could bring a national mortgage-refinancing wave which in turn could stave off countless foreclosures.

Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Mike Thompson, D-Napa led the effort to convince the president to appoint a new director to the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees mortgage backers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac; the FHFA has been without a permanent director for two and a half years.

“Republicans in the Senate have been playing games with the American people by blocking the Federal Housing Financial Authority from having a proper leader,” Lofgren said in a news release. “These are difficult times and we need to be doing everything we can to prevent foreclosures and keep families in their homes. I urge President Obama to take immediate action and appoint a permanent director.”

As the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein blogged yesterday, there’s some bipartisan consensus that “the agency could write the rules so that anyone with a loan backed by Fannie and Freddie and current on their payments for six months would be automatically approved for refinancing.”

“The effect on the economy would be twofold: First, the refinancings would act like a high-powered tax cut for those homeowners who took advantage of them,” Klein wrote. “As Hubbard and Mayer write, ‘Empirical evidence suggests that consumers spend a larger portion of permanent increases in income than temporary increases.’ And as these refinancings would lower payments, they’re as permanent as you can get in government policy. Second, it would make the Fed’s efforts to keep interest rates low more effective in stimulating the economy.”

More than two million California homeowners are considered “underwater” because they owe more on their homes then their homes are worth; that’s about three in 10 of all California homes with mortgages.

Eshoo today said the national economy “cannot fully rebound unless and until housing is addressed. The current situation of foreclosures is unacceptable.”

Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, issued a release noting this region has been disproportionately affected by the financial and housing crises.

“Families are faced with foreclosures, even as unemployment remains high. We can’t wait to have leadership to help folks stay in their homes,” he said. “Keeping folks in their homes is critical to the economic health of our communities. More has to be done to give people a clear path to avoiding foreclosure.”

The only Bay Area House member who didn’t sign the letter was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco.

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Senators urge dropping barriers to refinance

Both of California’s U.S. Senators are among more than a dozen from both sides of the aisle who urged the Obama Administration today to make administrative reforms to help millions of responsible homeowners refinance and take advantage of today’s record-low interest rates.

The lawmakers – writing to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling and Federal Housing Finance Agency Acting Director Edward DeMarco – said that with interest rates at 3.94 percent, it’s time to lower barriers that keep borrowers trapped in higher-interest loans and to address other hurdles that limit existing refinancing programs.

Specifically, they called for removing loan-to-value limits, which they said would provide the most at-risk borrowers an alternative to simply walking away from their mortgage; eliminating loan level price adjustments, which they say make a refinance less affordable, reduce the benefit to the borrower, and can’t be justified on loans on which Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac already bear the risk; and ensuring that second lien holders don’t stand in the way of a refinance.

“Time is of the essence and we urge you to act quickly and aggressively to ensure that responsible homeowners receive the full benefit of these lower rates,” they wrote.

In addition to U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the letter was signed by Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.; Robert Menendez, D-N.J.; Mark Begich, D-Alaska; Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I; Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.; Scott Brown, R-Mass.; Robert Casey Jr., D-Pa.; Richard Burr, R-N.C.; Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.; John Kerry, D-Mass.; Mark Warner, D-Va.; Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Read the full text of the letter, after the jump…
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Miller leads complaint about foreclosure aid

Rep. George Miller, the House Education and the Workforce Committee’s ranking Democrat, led 18 House Democrats in complaining to the Obama Administration yesterday that not enough has been done to help distressed homeowners in the Bay Area and nationwide.

“We are writing to urge stronger and immediate actions by the Administration to help many of our constituents who are being routinely abused, lied to, and subjected to financial conflicts of interest by lenders and mortgage servicers, including those participating in federal programs,” they said in their letter to Vice President Joe Biden.

“Our constituents are running out of time. This Administration must stand up for America’s families caught in the housing crisis. The Making Home Affordable Program is simply not making sufficient progress to prevent unnecessary foreclosures. It has so far failed to ensure that mortgage servicers work with homeowners in good faith to achieve loss mitigation that works for homeowners, investors and our communities.”

With the $29 billion Home Affordable Modification Program having been pegged by the Government Accountability Office and other independent watchdogs as inefficient and in need of reform, House Republicans are targeting HAMP for elimination as part of their proposed budget cuts. Miller, D-Martinez, and his cohorts don’t support that, but rather are urging the program’s immediate improvement to crack down on mortgage servicers’ abusive practices.

Miller organized a meeting last week for more than a dozen of his colleagues with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan to convey their concern over HAMP and their constituents’ mistreatment. Among the signatories of yesterday’s letter were representatives John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove; Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton; Jackie Speier, D-Hillsborough; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; and Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose.