Tag Archives: Janet Byrd

Oregon hold ’em: Mediation efforts ramp up for foreclosure victims

By Amanda Waldroupe, Staff Writer

Housing and consumer advocates are eagerly counting down to July 11.

That is the day the provisions of the state’s new mandatory mediation law, passed by the Oregon Legislature earlier this year, go into effect.

The law requires banks to enter into mediation with homeowners 60 days before their home is foreclosed upon. Homeowners at risk of foreclosure — people, for instance, who have not paid their mortgages for a few months — are also eligible for mediation.

Mediation enables a representative of the bank and the homeowner to sit down for a one-on-one conversation regarding the homeowner’s situation. The hope, from consumer advocate’s point of view, is that the mediation process will reveal at least one option allowing the homeowner to stay in their home.

Oregon posted its highest foreclosure rate ever in the first quarter of 2012, at 3.86 percent. This translates to a total of 23,335 loans in the foreclosure process in Oregon.

The program would not be possible without the neary $30 million Oregon received in April as the result of the national mortgage settlement agreement reached between state attorneys general and the five major financial institutions deemed most responsible for the nation’s foreclosure crisis — Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Ally Financial, and Citigroup.

A fraction of those dollars — $7.6 million — was allocated in late May by the Legislature’s Emergency Board, a joint board of senators and representatives that meet when the Legislature is not in session.

Approximately $3.9 million will be used to start the mediation program, which will be overseen by the Department of Justice. The rest was given to Oregon’s Community and Housing Services agency to increase legal assistance to homeowners, expand the state’s network of housing counselors, and fund outreach efforts to find homeowners facing foreclosure who are eligible for mediation and other services. Continue reading

Homeowners facing foreclosure need accurate information

By Janet Byrd, Contributing Columnist

A stable place to call home gives people the chance to build a better life for themselves and their families. The thousands of Oregonians facing the uncertainty of foreclosure have new hope for stability because of recent legislative action.

One out of every five Oregon homeowners is “under water” and owes more on their home than it is worth. One out of 11 is either in default or is 30 days late on their mortgage payments.  These financial strains have repercussions throughout families and communities. Foreclosures are a drain on physical health, and the stress makes family life harder. Because owning a home plays such an important role in maintaining a household’s financial stability, foreclosures have impacts for many years on family opportunities and prospects, including education and employment. Communities are hurt by foreclosures as well — by vacant homes, a loss of community vitality, and decreased home values. The recent Street Roots cover story (“Boarded up,” May11) highlighted the problems caused if these vacant homes are not maintained. Continue reading

Best quotes from Street Roots interviews in 2011

“I don’t think we’re in the buggy whip business just yet. But I sometimes wonder if we’re going to be the last. I’m not nostalgic, but I enjoy, and still think most people do, the printed book. It’s a question of how much you have to accommodate the new technologies and how much you continue to make what you do important to people.”

— Michael Powell, former owner of Powell’s City of Books, on reading and books, Jan. 20

“The plans that are now called Cadillac health plans are what we used to call adequate health plans. There’s been a trend in this country over and over, to blame segments of the population for our health care costs rising out of control. And the truth is that the blame lies in the fact that we don’t have a health system. We don’t allocate our health resources or make decisions in a rational way, based on what the needs are and what our resources are. Instead we have this for-profit industry all trying to eat from our health-care pie.”

Dr. Margaret Flowers, Physicians for National Health Program, doctor, activist, on the health-care system and reform, Feb. 4

“The reality is, to be successful on the housing front, locally and at the state level, we need a big coalition. Part of this is about the confidence and maturity of a movement, and its willingness to build a big tent.”

— Nick Fish, Portland City Commissioner, on resource development for housing and homeless services, March 4 Continue reading

Realtors seek to amend state constitution over transfer taxes

Ballot initiative would close the door on one tool affordable housing advocates had sought for low-income residents

By Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writer

Two years ago, the state of Oregon took a bold move to create a sustainable funding source for affordable, low-income housing. The document recording fee — a $15 fee on real estate documents filed with the state — generated an estimated $18.5 million in the 2009-2011 biennium, dedicated to multifamily rental housing, homeownership assistance, and homelessness prevention for working families, seniors and people with disabilities.

It will be the last of its kind, if a proposed constitutional amendment runs its course in the 2012 general election.

A ballot initiative now circulating seeks to prohibit state and local governments from imposing taxes, fees or assessments on the transfer of any interest in real property. The initiative exempts such assessments in place as of Dec. 31, 2009, which includes the document recording fee. Across the country, many states and local municipalities have similar assessments in place, often a small percentage — between 0.5 and 1.5 percent in most instances — applied to the sale value of the house, that is then applied to general or specific uses by government.

It may seem superfluous to put such language in the state constitution given that the Oregon State Legislature has had a preemption in place since 1995 that prohibits local governments and the state from adopting such a tax. This initiative goes further in amending the state constitution, taking the decision out of legislators’ hands. Petitioners need to gather nearly 117,000 signatures to get the initiative on the ballot.

Pushing the initiative forward is the Oregon Association of Realtors, which succeeded in getting the preemption established in 1995. The state agency is backed by a nationwide movement of the National Association of Realtors and funded through a special $75 assessment on Oregon Realtor members. With approximately 14,000 Realtors across Portland, the fund is expected to generate

about $1 million for the campaign named Protect Oregon Homes.

For Realtors, the preemption in place is not enough to protect against a real estate transfer tax, or RETT, which could tack on thousands of dollars in the sale of a house.

Given the economic climate, the Realtors Association says the pressure on lawmakers to impose such a tax is too tempting. “In every session there are bills introduced so that there can be transfer taxes,” says Art Kegler, a Realtor in Boardman who is the chief petitioner on the initiative. “It could be overturned in the legislature very easily. There were three bills for transfer taxes in the last session alone.”

Kegler argues that such a tax penalizes home buyers and sellers, and is not conducive to the recovery of the real estate market, to employment or business. Kegler is also the chairman of the Oregon Real Estate Agency, the state agency assigned to consumer protection in real estate transactions. His term ends in December.

Kegler says Protect Oregon Homes has about 100,000 signatures toward its goal of 165,000 to ensure the initiative is on the ballot in 2012. “I think in this particular environment, most people are selling because they have to, not because they choose to, said Shaun Jillions with the Oregon Association of Realtors. “And we’re seeing a rampant rise in distressed properties, foreclosures and short sales where people aren’t walking away with any money. They don’t have the money to bring to the table,” Jillions said.

On the other side of the issue are affordable housing advocates who for years have called for lawmakers to rescind the RETT preemption to pave the way for a new sustainable resource for low-income housing.

“Real estate transfer taxes, document recording fees and other assessments that would be banned by the proposed initiative are all tools in a tool box that government can use,” says Janet Byrd, executive director of the Housing Alliance, a statewide coalition of affordable housing advocates.

“We don’t have any simple answers for how to solve the problems were facing such as homelessness, and we need to look at all of our possible options. Real estate transfer taxes or document recording fees are small assessments which can raise funds to help those among us who need a safe place to call home.”

Banning these kinds of assessments permanently takes away options for governments and communities to use in considering ways to solve problems, says Byrd.

“Local communities and the State Legislature should have the ability to consider all our options, particularly in times of economic downturn,” Byrd says. “It’s also a bad idea to alter the constitution for specific issues.”

Municipalities and counties across the state of Washington have real estate transfer taxes in place, in addition to a 1.28 percent statewide transfer fee. These fees can vary widely, and there are often exemptions in place, such as minimum values or for family transactions.

Nationwide, transfer taxes raise billions for local governments.

Washington County is the only local government in Oregon that currently has a real estate transfer tax in place. The county assesses 0.1 percent, or $1 per $1,000 of assessed value of a home at the time of sale. It was put in place in 1977, and raises millions each year for the county’s general fund. In 2006, during the peak of the housing bubble, the tax raised $5.9 million.

In 2007, it raised $5.6 million. Those figures dropped in 2008 when the bubble burst, and in the 2010-11 fiscal year, the county took in $2.2 million from the tax. Like the document recording fee, Washington County’s tax would be grandfathered in if the amendment is passed.

“For Multnomah County, one of our primary agenda items each year is to repeal preemptions on local governments and ensure that no more preemptions are passed, regardless of the issue,” says County Commissioner Deborah Kafoury.

“Local governments are so strapped right now in our ability to make decisions that effect our constituents. And any time that the legislature or anybody wants to take away our ability to serve our constituents, we definitely are opposed.”

Kafoury says preemptions like the one on transfer fees actually restrict voters’ rights by not allowing them the choice. The RETT ballot measure is a one-size-fits-all application that local governments are, in general, opposed to, Kafoury said. Different communities have different needs, she says.

“Especially right now, when the state is making such huge cuts to really important human services, they’re cutting services for seniors, for the mentally ill, for public safety dollars,” Kafoury says. At the same time, she says, the state and local constituents expect the same level of service, and the demand continues to rise.

In it’s campaign, the Realtor’s have contracted with a new company, Signature Gathering Company of Oregon, a mutual benefit nonprofit created in June by a team of investors, including heavyweight lobbyist Mark Nelson. Nelson is a member of the nonprofit’s board of directors. Nelson’s lobbying firm, Public Affairs Counsel, has been hired by Signature Gathering Company of Oregon, and has received $2,500 for services to date.

Nelson is also retained as the lobbyist for the Housing Alliance, which has supported and campaigned for a real estate transfer tax in the past, specifically for affordable housing.

“The Housing Alliance retains Public Affairs Counsel to help us educate legislators about housing needs and to move our legislative agenda, says Byrd on the matter. “We are confident in their ability to help us achieve our goals.”

Nelson was out of town and not available to comment for this story, but his business partner, David Reinhardt, said there is no conflict of interest with this situation.

“He has not been contracted to lobby on the real estate transfer tax,” Reinhard said. “That would be a conflict of interest. We do not have a client that wants us to lobby for a ban on the real estate transfer tax.”

Reinhard said that his company will not lobby two sides of an issues. “That would be

totally unethical.”

Kafoury, however, says the history of issues Nelson has lobbied for are directly opposed to the needs of Multnomah County, specifically his recent opposition to Measures 66 and 67 — initiatives that preserved many crucial programs for people in need, Kafoury says.

While the ballot initiative has caught the attention of affordable housing advocates, there is no campaign organized in opposition at this time.

“We’ve been working on this with the Housing Alliance,” says John Miller, executive director of Oregon Opportunity Network comprising affordable housing organizations and agencies across the state. “We’re looking at all the implications of the ballot measure and deciding a strategy.”

Art Kegler, the chief petitioner on the amendment initiative, says that if affordable housing were the goal, “that would be fine.”

But Kegler says that has not been the goal of most transfer tax bills in the Oregon Legislature, which has considered rescinding the preemption for general fund resources, and could change its course on where the money goes in any legislative session, he says.

“If they did it for affordable housing, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. And only if that was documented in the constitution, not just in a legislative action,” Kegler says. In recent years, under the National Association of Realtors campaign, more than 30 states have passed restrictions or prohibitions on transfer fees, most of which were funneling money back to developers.

Others have been specifically preserved for charitable uses. Shaun Jillions, with the Oregon Association of Realtors, said the organization’s decision to pursue this was based on surveys of Realtors across the state that showed overwhelming support in eliminating real estate transfer taxes and putting resources to that end. But not everyone in the business agrees that this should be a priority for an industry suffering under the housing collapse and challenging economic forces.

“I am perplexed as to why our association is focusing on this issue when there are so many other pressing issues critical to Realtors and citizens of Oregon,” says Chris Bonner, a Realtor based in Portland.

Bonner says that states that have a transfer fee applied to affordable housing, such as Florida, have not seen a slowdown in real estate activity because of the fee. Banning such an option prevents jurisdictions from doing what they need to do to keep people in housing, Bonner says.

“We still have not — as a state or a nation — figured out how we are going to assist people who are on a fixed income or are working minimum-wage jobs, get affordable decent housing. And I hate to see any tool taken off the table that can help our communities remain stable and a place where our children will be able to afford a decent place to live.”

It’s not good for business, either, says Bonner.

“It’s not going to hurt our business as much as it hurts our community to have people struggling to afford decent housing,” she said, referring to the option of applying such taxes toward affordable housing. “We all can see that when people are on the edge and struggling, it does not make a good environment for either business or livability.”

Judy Carnahan has been a Realtor with the Oregon association for more than 25 years, but in January she switched her membership to the Washington Realtors. Carnahan, who is based in Portland, switched because she refused to pay the $75 assessment the Oregon Association required of members to get the RETT initiative on the ballot.

Carnahan didn’t support the fee or the initiative, which she said is a lousy way to establish tax law.

“The type of local input and opportunity for members of a community to participate in the building and construction of such a measure or law does not happen,” Carnahan says. “This comes from just a group of people with a special interest in mind and that’s it. This is not the way we construct good, sound fiscal policy in this state.”

The benefits of Realtor membership include access to the multiple listings service that is a key competitive tool for real estate brokers. Carnahan filed an inquiry with the Secretary of State’s office, arguing that the Realtors were withholding membership, and the multiple listings service, as a condition of paying the $75 for the campaign. (In January, the Attorney General’s office sent a cease and desist letter to the Oregon Association of Realtors saying the assessment violates state law in that the revenues contribute to campaigns. Attorney General’s office later rescinded the order and the fee. The Realtors had proposed the fee as a three-year assessment, but it was put in place for 2011 only.)

Carnahan, an independent broker, said brokers associated with a brokerage firm had no choice but to pay the fee. She said she had conversations with many brokers who don’t support the campaign.

“It was sad to talk with so many Realtors who really did not want to financially support the petition drive, but they felt as though they were forced to do it,” Carnahan said. It’s a non-issue for Realtors, and it’s not what the real estate industry needs,” she says.

“I don’t see that housing has been deterred in any way in Washington County, and business certainly hasn’t been damaged in Washington County, and in fact, Washington County has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state,” Carnahan says.

Carnahan would not specify if she would support a transfer tax applied to affordable housing – and in fact opposed ones in the past for their lack of clarity – she did say that more could be done by the industry to help the housing crisis than a constitutional ban.

“Even more than before, we have really severe housing problems,” Carnahan says. “Families have problems, and I don’t see there being any resources available for families who are displaced. Of any time in recent history that I’ve known about, there is a greater need now for alternative types of housing for families than ever before, and I see no other group that is better prepared, other than governments, to be able to get a handle on this right now.”

Read SR editorial on the subject.

Getting the policy ball moving forward begins with how we craft the message

Janet Byrd is a walking brain trust on housing issues and messaging. Working behind the scenes locally and with Elected officials in Salem, she has helped push forward a housing agenda statewide that is supported by scores of organizations, and individuals.

Byrd is currently the executive director of Neighborhood Partnerships, which works to create opportunities for low-income people. Byrd cut her teeth in neighborhood organizing in Chicago, working on housing issues such as insurance redlining, neighborhood disinvestment and tenant rights.

At Neighborhood Partnerships, Janet has been central to the success of the statewide advocacy coalition, the Housing Alliance.During her tenure, Neighborhood Partnerships also helped launch the innovative multi-county collaborative to serve high-need homeless families, Bridges to Housing, and quadrupled the impact of the Oregon IDA Initiative, a unique statewide partnership that builds the assets of low income Oregonians.

Street Roots recently talked with Byrd about the work she does, and the political climate we find ourselves in.

Israel Bayer: Can you talk about the messaging and framing work you are involved with and what you’ve found out over the past few years?

Janet Byrd: Neighborhood Partnerships has had the privilege of working with some wonderful experts in strategic communications this past year and a half, including Patrick Bresette of Demos and Larry Wallack of Portland State. We’ve been training and supporting a group of more than 60 leaders and advocates from a broad swath of issue concerns in our trainings, our Leadership Salons and our Advocates College.

We’re just coming to the end of the Advocates College now, and what I hear back from participants is that they’ve been able to use some of the new knowledge and skill in their work in Salem, in their communities, and within their networks.

The most exciting thing we’re doing is honing skills to create the terrain for new conversations. Rather than getting stuck in polarized positions, we are now better able to move toward policy change by carefully choosing words and the order of the concerns raised.

We’ve probably all been in a situation where the conversation we set out to have isn’t the conversation we end up having. We may be trying very earnestly to answer a question and realize mid-stream that we have no clear idea of what understanding lay behind the question, what viewpoint was shaping it.

That viewpoint is what the messaging folks call a frame. It comes from the recognition that humans aren’t blank slates. We walk around with preconceived understandings of the world and new information is slotted into pre-existing “frames.” All too often we don’t stop to think about what those frames are in our listeners. The result is that we’re talking, but we aren’t really having a conversation.

Where before we might end up getting angry or polarized, we now know that it’s possible to step back, spend some time analyzing and listening, and then re-engage in a different conversation. Sometimes the solution is to re-connect to the values that motivate our concern about the issue, because values shape thinking and create an emotional connection. Sometimes the solution is to offer a new way of thinking or naming something, so that you aren’t triggering a negative response. And sometimes it’s thinking about how you want to structure a conversation — the order of your points. Continue reading

Holding up the roof at the House

By Amanda Waldroupe, Staff Writer

The Housing Alliance is finalizing its advocacy agenda for the 2011 legislative cycle and preparing the case it will make to the state Legislature regarding why the state should support and, in some cases, bolster affordable housing programs.

In a year when the state’s general fund has a $3.5 billion shortfall and the Legislature will make massive cuts to state-funded programs, this is a Sisyphean task

“This is not a good year to be asking the Legislature for money,” says Beth Kaye, the Portland Housing Bureau’s legislative affairs manager.

“There are already proposals circulating from all sides looking at really devastating cuts to the network of support,” says Janet Byrd, the executive director of Neighborhood Partnerships and chair of the Housing Alliance, referring to cuts to welfare programs, mental health, drug addiction treatment programs, and others. Continue reading

Summit galvanizes faith-based efforts for homeless students

by Joanne Zuhl, Staff Writer

It is a jarring number — 18,000. That’s how many students in Oregon public schools experienced homelessness in the 2008-09 school year. That’s a 14 percent increase over the previous year, according to state figures, and still, fewer than what is expected to enter school halls come this fall.

It’s not just a humanitarian issue, it’s a financial one as well, with local districts unable to sustain the outreach and effort needed for their most vulnerable students.

This week, hundreds of people converged on Salem for the first Interfaith Summit on Homeless Children, Youth and Families, looking for ways that they can alleviate and even reverse these figures. Continue reading

Push for housing levy coming from the grassroots

Housing advocates and policy makers in Seattle are celebrating the recent renewal of its housing levy, prompting renewed efforts in Portland to replicate the funding stream here.

Approved by 63 percent of voters during Seattle’s Nov. 3 election, the renewed levy will generate $147 million in local revenue for building 1,670 units of affordable housing and provide assistance to 9,300 other people through rent assistance and home buyer assistance. The levy taxes the 350,000 households in Seattle about 17 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. The owner of a $450,000 home, for example, contributes $79 per year.

Since its creation in 1981, the levy has generated almost $400 million in local funds, as well as millions in matching federal dollars, says Harry Hoffman, the executive director of the Housing Development Consortium, a trade association of housing developers in Seattle.

“It allows us to leverage county, state, federal dollars and private philanthropy,” Hoffman says, estimating that for every dollar the levy creates in local revenue, three dollars are earned through those sources. Ten thousand units of affordable housing for people who are formerly homeless, elderly, and have little income, have been built.

Without the levy, Hoffman says that the development of affordable housing in Seattle “would pretty much grind to a halt.”

“It makes projects possible,” Hoffman says.

Advocates in Portland say that a local levy could create the same level of activity. But there are no plans to put a similar levy on Oregon’s ballot in 2010. Nick Fish, the city commissioner in charge of the Housing Bureau, says that a levy is unlikely to appear on a ballot for another “three to five years.”

“My sense is that it normally takes up to two years to lay the groundwork, raise the money, get your message across and be successful,” Fish says. “I have limited experience on this. I am open to hearing from the folks who are a lot more smarter about this than I am.”

Many people involved in developing low-income affordable housing are not pleased with Fish’s timeline for a local affordable-housing levy.

“When the Affordable Housing Now! coalition … looked at the possibility of copying Seattle’s success with bonds and levies (in 2002) it was a top priority,” says Michael Anderson, the executive director of the Oregon Opportunity Network. “It remains a top priority.”

“I think it’s critically important that we have a levy, and we have one as soon as possible,” says Bobby Weinstock, a housing specialist at Northwest Pilot Project, which finds housing for low-income elderly people.

Describing the need to develop low-income affordable housing as “dire” and “urgent,” Weinstock cites the 2000 Census, which showed that there is a shortage of low-income affordable housing in Portland by 11,577 units.

“The housing levy gives us a way to eliminate the housing shortage for that income group,” he says. “(It would make) a huge dent in the homelessness issue.”

Fish says that Portland will have to find new sources of revenue that are dedicated to affordable housing.

Until this year, the Portland Housing Bureau’s budget has always been precarious, relying on one-time funding from the city’s General Fund that is re-evaluated during each budget cycle. This year, the Housing Bureau’s budget was completely preserved, even as other city bureaus faced budget cuts of 5 percent or more.

Portland also has the 30 percent TIF (tax increment finance) set aside — revenue that comes from taxes diverted from Portland’s nine urban renewal districts. However, there have been a host of problems using those funds (Street Roots, Dec. 12, 2008). Fish says that in three to five years, that source of funding will no longer be reliable.

In the last legislative cycle, the Oregon Legislature passed a document recording fee, which charges nominal fees for recording real estate documents. The revenue raised from the fee goes toward building and maintaining affordable rental housing.

The fee was a huge victory for affordable housing advocates because it was the first time the state dedicated a source of revenue for affordable housing. But as Fish points out, the source of that revenue — transactions in the real estate industry — is directly tied to the economy.

“In the current recession, it’s not going to generate the money we need to tackle the problem,” Fish says.

“We are going to take a good hard look at additional sources of funding for housing. That means thinking about whether we should pursue a future bond or levy,” Fish says.

However, during his interview with Street Roots, Fish did not give any concrete plans about what those sources might be, except to say that they must be dedicated sources of revenue, although he did express interest in pursuing a levy similar to Seattle’s. Continue reading