“A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and demand it back when it begins to rain.”
— Robert Frost (1874-1963)
A rise in sales activity, and prices, in the long-slumbering housing market is one of the big news items of 2013.
National trends indicate a decrease in foreclosures as jobs and economic growth edge up, but New Mexico’s economy has proven slow to rebound and, for the first time in a very long time, people are leaving the “Land of Enchantment” for greener pastures, both figuratively and literally.
Foreclosure actions no longer make up some 20 percent of the docket but they continue to be a daily staple at the 2nd Judicial District Court.
It is generally agreed that no one wins when a lender forecloses on a home. The borrower loses his home and suffers long-term if not irreparable credit problems. The neighbors suffer an overall decrease in property values when lenders sell foreclosed properties or, as has been a problem nationally, when foreclosed homes are simply left vacant and uncared for. The lender generally ends up with a home he did not want, and may be ill-equipped to deal with.
Several programs are aimed at resolving the problems that arise when mortgages go bad.
First, the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office has announced its “HomeOwnership Preservation Program.” This effort is funded by the $25 billion settlement of a nationwide lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice against a number of prominent banks and mortgage lenders over foreclosure practices early in the recent financial crisis.
State Attorney General Gary King’s office participated in the lawsuit on behalf of New Mexico citizens and his office is now working with United South Broadway Corp., New Mexico Legal Aid, Senior Citizen’s Law Office, New Mexico Finance Authority and numerous other consumer-advocacy groups, to provide information and assistance to those who are in danger of losing their homes due to inability to pay the mortgage.
Alternatives to traditional foreclosure may range from modification of the terms of the mortgage to engineering a moderated surrender of the property where economics prove unworkable. The key is early access to information about alternatives, and prompt action by the consumer. As the HomeOwnership Preservation Program says: “Get Help Today! DON’T WAIT.” (For more information, visit www.keepyourhomenewmexico.org or call the hotline at 1-855-664-6630.)
Second, in conjunction with the 2nd Judicial District Pro Bono Committee, a monthly foreclosure clinic is conducted by attorney Allan Wainwright — 2012’s Pro Bono Attorney of the Year — and other members of the Volunteer Attorney Panel here at the Bernalillo County Courthouse. Ordinarily held the first week of each month, homeowners in trouble can obtain free consultations to help them understand the process and the available alternatives. Consultations are on a first-come, first-served basis. (For more information on this monthly clinic check the court calendar at email@example.com.)
Finally, the 2nd Judicial District Court Pro Bono Committee will be hosting another Law-La-Palooza Legal Fair on June 20, 2013, from 3-6 p.m. Participants in our Law-La-Palooza Legal Fairs receive free consultations with volunteer lawyers on all sorts of legal subjects. Not surprisingly, foreclosure advice has been in big demand these last few years.
Our most recent legal fair was at the Isleta Community Center and more than 150 of our neighbors received free legal advice at that event. The June 20, 2013, Law-Law-Palooza will be held at The Barcelona Suites Hotel at 900 Louisiana NE and marks our first partnership with the private sector in providing free legal services to lower-income Bernalillo County residents. Special thanks to the management of the Barcelona Suites Hotel, and to our many volunteer attorneys and staff members for making these Law-La-Paloozas happen. If you need legal advice, we’ll see you there.
Alan M. Malott is a judge of the 2nd Judicial District Court. Before joining the court, he practiced law throughout New Mexico for 30 years and was a nationally certified civil trial specialist. If you have questions, send them to Judge Malott, P.O. Box 8305, Albuquerque, NM 87198 or email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed here are solely those of Judge Malott individually and not those of the court.