2011 Report on Project Work - Consumer Protections and Housing
- Defeated bills that would have weakened homeowners’ rights and protections. We were instrumental in getting the Homeowner and Homebuyer Protection Act passed in 2010, and in 2011 we worked hard to defend this important law from numerous attacks. One bill in particular would have gutted the law, which cracks down on “foreclosure rescue” and other scams that target struggling families. But thanks to our efforts, that bill failed.
- Stopped legislation that would have increased interest rates and fees for loans from finance companies. Finance companies have numerous lobbyists in the General Assembly pushing for laws that weaken consumer protections and enable them to make more money on the backs of low-income workers. This year, we teamed up with military personnel – many of these companies target troops stationed at bases in North Carolina – to squash efforts to make finance-company loans more expensive.
- Protected homeowners’ rights in court. Together with our legal services partners we helped provide free legal representation to hundreds of low-income homeowners who were victims of abusive or illegal lending practices. Victories included saving homes from foreclosure and securing cash settlements for families who had lost their homes to unlawful practices. For example, we obtained the dismissal of a foreclosure against a homeowner whose loan servicer refused to process her mortgage payments and then assessed more than$20,000 in fees. We also recovered monetary settlements for a couple who lost their home because their loan servicer failed to apply their payments to the loan and for borrowers whose mortgage broker misrepresented the terms of the loans he sold them. In addition, we are litigating a class action to stop unlicensed settlement companies from conducting loan closings and to recover damages for their victims.
- Educated a variety of audiences about fair housing rights. Working with Legal Aid of North Carolina, we helped create the new NC Fair Housing Project, which is dedicated to fighting housing discrimination throughout the state. A Justice Center staff member serves as the project’s director. We have co-sponsored more than a dozen trainings on fair housing rights, including workshops targeted at Spanish speakers, people with disabilities and their advocates, and housing providers and managers.
- Secured new protections and resources for homeowners facing foreclosure. We worked to increase public funding for housing counselors and legal services attorneys helping North Carolinians avoid foreclosure. We also championed new legal protections that improve the rights of homeowners facing foreclosure by their homeowners’ associations.
- Improved North Carolina’s annexation laws to better serve low-income and minority communities. We worked with communities and several civil-rights organizations to secure a new law that lowers the barriers to annexation for low-income communities. Now, rather than being excluded by their better-off neighbors, more low-income communities will become part of municipalities that offer much-needed services and utilities.
- Defending important consumer protections from attack. A variety of business interests target consumer protections every year, hoping to change the state’s laws to make it easier for them to rob North Carolina’s working families of their hard-earned assets. However, North Carolina continues to have some of the strongest consumer protections in the country, in part thanks to our vigilant efforts monitoring legislation and legislative committees and informing lawmakers about how proposals to weaken protections will hurt their constituents.
- Helping make utility rates affordable for low-income families. While Duke Energy and Progress Energy seek to merge and create the nation’s largest utility, we are advocating aggressively along with partner organizations to make sure the merger is not approved without consideration of the needs of low-income families. We are pushing for weatherization programs to reduce electricity usage, programs to help families replace outdated appliances, protections against unfair shut-off policies, and rate structures that allow low-wealth people to pay reduced rates for electricity without subsidizing the rates of large corporate users. We are also involved in a Duke Power rate case opposing the company’s attempt to increase electricity rates in North Carolina.
- Increasing the supply of safe, affordable housing in North Carolina. We will continue to advocate for a dedicated revenue source for the NC Housing Trust Fund, which finances the construction and rehabilitation of affordable housing. We also will continue our efforts to secure more “least restrictive” housing opportunities for people with mental health disabilities. In addition, we will continue our advocacy and research on transportation issues and will work to make sure public transit plans include affordable housing.
- Increasing and protecting the rights of tenants. We have undertaken a number of cases to protect and expand tenants' rights. These include cases dealing with bed-bug infestation, mold, deceptive use of "rent discounts," and attempts to evict for failure to pay water bills. In addition, we will continue to fight bills that would significantly reduce the rights and protections for tenants that currently exist in state law. This year, that included a bill that would have eliminated minimum housing-code inspection programs by local governments; we secured significant improvements to this legislation in order to protect tenants’ safety. Other bad bills, like one that would make tenants liable for bed-bug infestations , have not passed yet but are still on the legislative table, and we will work to improve or defeat them in the coming year.
- Exposing systemic issues that can lead to foreclosure. We have continued our efforts to protect homeowners from foreclosure, including litigation asserting that the federal government’s Home Affordable Modification Program, which is supposed to reduce mortgage payments and lower interest rates for struggling homeowners, has not been implemented effectively. We are currently monitoring the work of a legislative committee tasked with rewriting the state’s banking laws in order to ensure that any changes benefit or do not adversely impact consumers.