Desert Underwater: Progress Made as Residents Fight to Keep Home - 8 News NOW

Desert Underwater: Progress Made as Residents Fight to Keep Homes

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LAS VEGAS -- Housing experts now estimate more than 100,000 homes in the Las Vegas valley have been foreclosed since 2007. Bad enough, but they also predict another 100,000 could face foreclosure before the housing crisis ends.

Banks and other lenders have been haughty and crass in their dealings with troubled homeowners. As people have struggled to hold onto their homes, they have been subjected to dirty tricks, scams, and indifference. But progress has been made and small steps have been taken by some Nevadans who are standing by to help even more.

Nevada Speaker of the Assembly Barbara Buckley saw the trouble coming years ago, not because of her legislative position, but because of her day job as head of the non-profit Legal Aid of Southern Nevada.

"The whole crisis has been overwhelming. We are first in the nation in defaults, first in foreclosures, first in bankruptcies, first in unemployment. So yeah, it's been a tsunami of people in need and many of these people have never needed legal aid a day before in their life. They were living the American dream," she said.

Since Buckley represented a lower to middle class assembly district, many who asked for help were her constituents. The common ground they shared was that all were facing foreclosure of their homes, and few could get the banks to give them the time of day.

"You couldn't even get them on the phone. You could not get a person with authority on the phone to save your life. So that is how I came up with the idea for the Nevada Foreclosure Mediation Program. As long as the homeowner elects, let's force the lender to sit across the table from the homeowner and then maybe something can happen," said Buckley.

The mediation program is now the law, but it wasn't easy to pass it. The banks lobbied hard to kill it and they asked Governor Jim Gibbons to veto it, but Buckley stuck to her guns.

"They did not want to see it happen but because I was Speaker of the House, I told them it was going to happen and that they needed to get on board. Get on the train or get run over by it," she said.

There are still hang-ups. Banks and lenders use paperwork to drag the process out. Much of the paperwork they are asked to submit is deficient or incomplete and is sent back to start the mediation process all over.

Buckley's successor as Speaker, Marcus Conklin, dug in his heels too and rammed through a law that says a lender who sends out a notice of default as step one in a foreclosure must sign a sworn affidavit that the lender actually owns the note and that the chain of title is in order. After that law went into effect in October, notices of default fell from thousands per month to a few hundred. The lenders know their paperwork stinks.

"Criminal prosecution may result if you are lying, more or less, and that scared the bejeezus out of them," said Buckley.

People who need legal advice about foreclosure issues are welcome at Legal Aid. Buckley says three of her attorneys work full time on foreclosure issues and represent homeowners in trouble. In addition, 250 private attorneys in the valley do pro bono work for the center on a range of legal issues.

Legal Aid operates a self help center at the regional justice center. Anyone involved in a legal dispute can get information on how to navigate the system. In addition, they run a free class every week at UNLV which teaches homeowners everything about the foreclosure process.

There are no guarantees, Buckley says, but if you are ready to fight to hang on to your home, these services can help.

"People need to be persistent and they need to be informed, because there is no one looking out for you," she said.

No matter how big and powerful the banks are, persistence and hard work by individuals who have the guts to stand up to them can make a difference.

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