OPINION: Legislature failing in housing and financial education

FILE - In this April 4, 2010 file photo, a foreclosure sign sits atop a for sale sign in front of a single-family home tops the for sale sign in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

On January 31st, Utah signed another historic settlement addressing foreclosure abuses in the Beehive State. This time, the offending entity was Lender Processing Services, Inc. and its subsidiaries, who systematically falsified signatures on documents to speed up the foreclosure process not only in Utah, but across the nation. Our state received $1.39 million, adding to the overall sum of money received by our legislature as a result of wrongdoing in the foreclosure process. Last year, it was the five largest mortgage servicers and a hefty sum of nearly $22 million that went into our state coffers. Sadly, the passage of a final budget marks yet another failure of our legislature to acknowledge and honor the intent of an unexpected settlement windfall. Once again, our leaders refuse to recognize the importance of good financial education to Utah’s housing market and overall economy.

Utah Housing Coalition and our partners have been working since the first day of the legislative session to make the case for housing and financial education as the most appropriate use of this money. Countless studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of the education that only HUD-approved counselors can provide. These counselors are highly educated and provide a host of vital services, from first time home buyer education and basic budgeting to credit repair, foreclosure prevention and reverse mortgage education. Simply put, HUD-approved housing counseling was the best possible use of the $1.39 million LPS settlement.

Certainly housing and financial education was not the only option, though it remains the most logical one. They could have allocated this money to the Olene Walker Housing Loan Fund to stimulate affordable rental housing development in areas of the state most impacted by foreclosures. They could have put this money back into the Attorney General’s Office for future investigations on foreclosure abuses and mortgage fraud. They could even have cut this money into smaller pieces and allocated it to the municipalities in our state most affected by foreclosures, deferring to the wisdom of local solutions for local problems.

Instead, the legislature has chosen to spend this money on other projects. Some of the other funded items, however, speak to our leaders’ priorities: Sundance, Treehouse Museum, balloon festivals and turkey shows trump free resources for the financial wellness of Utah’s taxpayers this year.

Many on Capitol Hill believe that the foreclosure crisis is over. And to a certain extent, they’re right. Our state is no longer among the highest ranking states for foreclosures. But we still have struggling homeowners in neighborhoods throughout the state. Yes, even in the neighborhoods that our lawmakers reside. But beyond that, we have thousands of citizens who have already come out the other end of this crisis who need help getting back on their feet, repairing their credit, and learning how to avoid making past financial mistakes. Furthermore, many young people who are now venturing into the housing market as first time homebuyers could truly benefit from unbiased, matter of fact homebuyer education. And that’s what our counselors do best.

Utah Housing Coalition did not stand to gain from an appropriation for housing counseling. Our stake in this cause is our stake in all policy discussions in our state: to promote the increase and availability of affordable housing in Utah. We believe in housing counseling because we know it works. An appropriation to Financial & Housing Counseling could have sped the ongoing recovery of our housing market and improved the lives of the thousands of Utahns who need their help. But now, we may never know.

Tara Rollins, Executive Director

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