Friday, September 10, 2010

Centerpiece: Meet Mortgage Mediation

The Center for Housing Policy has been an occasional contributor to Open House for a long time, but, starting today we are making it official. Every Thursday the Center will post a column called Centerpiece. It will be a place for the Center to contribute in an informal way to the wider housing policy discussion, and hopefully point readers to useful resources and research.

Centerpiece’s opening remarks are penned by Laura Williams, Research Associate for the Center.

Some of the useful research the Center intends to bestow among Open House readers can be found on one of my pet projects, Yes, it is sad to say, but foreclosure is still a big problem, even as the situation -- nearly three years in --begins to feel normal and our best efforts in the face of it futile.

But there is hope! Some of the most promising programs to prevent foreclosures are in mortgage mediation. Instead of a one-size-fits-most approach mandating refinancing, payment plans or other measures, mediation lets homeowners and their loan services work things out in the way that best suits everyone involved. It’s not a new idea, but it’s one that is gaining traction.

Mediation is an excellent policy tool because it not only gets the parties – homeowners and loan services – talking, but it does so in a regulated context in front of a neutral third party who can referee negotiations and bridge impasses. Some of the best programs are happening in Philadelphia and Connecticut, but many cities and states are pursuing programs that appear promising. And what’s even better in a poor economic climate is that most of the programs have cost little or no money to implement.

We recently updated our mediation policy section with lots of information on how to design and implement a mediation program, based mostly on the excellent work of Andrew Jakabovics and Alon Cohen at the Center for American Progress. Their reports It’s Time We Talked and Now We’re Talking are a comprehensive analysis of current policies nation-wide, and must-reads for anyone dealing with foreclosures.

Mortgage mediation seems to be a no-brainer. It empowers the homeowner, makes the foreclosure process more transparent and can make a real impact with very little investment. Philadelphia’s very thrifty mediation program has allowed nearly 50 percent of homeowners to stay in their homes, and most of the rest have achieved a graceful exit. Talk has never been so cheap, or so worthwhile.

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