Unanimous resolution opposes deadline on homeowner protection

 

City Council this week called on court officials to preserve the city’s Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Program, rather than enact a proposed change that would cut the time frame residents and banks have to hammer out alternatives to foreclosure.

“We really believe it’s going to cost a lot of people their homes,” said John Dodds, director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, who urged council to approve the measure, which council unanimously did.

The program, which gives banks and homeowners a chance to reach a deal before foreclosure proceeds, has been heralded as a national model.

First Judicial District Administrative Judge John W. Herron wants to cut the time for mediation to 150 days. According to Dodds, the change could go into effect as soon as May.

Under current rules, there is no time limit — and Dodds worried that a time limit favors banks who can simply do nothing until the limit is reached and then foreclose.

“The problem is that banks do not have their act together at all,” Dodds said. “All the bank has to do is do nothing — then the family goes right out the door.”

More than 5,000 Philadelphia families have saved their homes through the diversion program since its inception.

Council members said it should remain untouched.

“It is not time to end the mortgage diversion program,” said Councilwoman Marian Tasco. “It is a national model. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Herron could not be reached for comment.

The move comes as the Philadelphia metropolitan area faces a significant increase in foreclosures.

Two weeks ago, a report by RealTrac found that the number of foreclosures jumped to a total of 2,940 in February, a 47.2 percent increase over the same period last year.

Council also approved a resolution urging the state legislature to move on a package of bills that would change the statute of limitations for sexual abuse in civil cases.

State Rep. Louise Bishop and former House Speaker, now Councilman Dennis O’Brien introduced the proposal last year in Harrisburg at the height of the Penn State sex scandal. The bills have languished in committee ever since.

“Every time we’ve introduced legislation it has laid in committee,” Bishop told members of council.

She stood during council’s session to urge members to approve the resolution, and to tell, in very frank terms, the story of her own sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather.

“I was young. I didn’t really know what was happening to me, didn’t understand it,” she said. “But every time my stepfather had an opportunity to caress me, feel me, bother me, he did.”

It didn’t stop there.

“I woke up one night to find him in bed with me,” said Bishop. “Not only was he in bed with me, he was in me. It was a very, very, horrifying and difficult for experience for me. But, because I knew that my grandfather, who lived with me, would kill him if he knew, and because I knew it would break my mother’s heart … there was absolutely nothing I could do but hold it within.”

It is not the first time Bishop has gone public with the story of her abuse. She decided to reveal her secret last November as she advocated for the laws.

“I could not hold it any longer,” she said.

The reform bills would give victims of child abuse and child sexual abuse until they are 50 years old to press a civil suit. Under current law, victims have until they are 50 to press criminal charges, but only until they are 30 years old for civil suits.

In addition, the proposal would also create a two-year window to revive cases in which the statute of limitations has expired.

Similar reforms were adopted in Delaware in 2007.

In other news, council will vote at its next meeting on a resolution by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown “calling for justice and standing in solidarity” in the Trayvon Martin case.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” said Brown, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King.

She said many Black parents are required to have a talk with their sons similar to the “birds and bees” talk — but known as the “existing while Black” talk.

Finally, Councilman Jim Kenney introduced a bill that would change the Home Rule Charter to require individuals running who hold public office to resign before running for another office. The bill was referred to committee.

 

Contact staff writer Eric Mayes at (215) 893-5742 or emayes@phillytrib.com.

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