About 18 of every 100 homes in Pierce County are in foreclosure – the highest rate in the state and well above the national average of 11 percent.
A documentary screening Thursday in Tacoma puts a face on the still brewing crisis of home foreclosure and comes with offers of help for homeowners faced with losing their slice of the American Dream.
“American Winter” follows eight families struggling to keep their homes in the aftermath of 2008 financial collapse. The 90-minute film was directed by Emmy Award-winning filmmakers and brothers Joe and Harry Gantz (“Taxicab Confessions” and “The Defenders.”) It was filmed in Portland during the winter of 2011-12.
“The crisis is not over,” said Angeline Thomas, a foreclosure mediation and outreach project attorney at Seattle University School of Law. “Pierce County has a disproportionate number of foreclosures and a disproportionate number of resources.”
From January through August, 19,839 foreclosures had been completed in Washington, according to the CoreLogic National Foreclosure Report. Since the financial crisis began in 2008, 4.5 million foreclosures have occurred nationwide.
Thomas is a member of the Pierce County Foreclosure Prevention Roundtable, a group of service providers, attorneys, housing counselors, mediators and state agencies. They gather quarterly to discuss trends, outreach possibilities and was to prevent home foreclosure. The group is sponsoring the free film screening.
“American Winter” premiered on HBO in March and won Best Documentary at the Portland International Film Festival. Thomas saw the film in Seattle and thought it would make a good event to bring resources to and start a dialog within the community. The film destigmatizes the already heavy burden of losing a home to foreclosure, she said.
“I think (the general public) has foreclosure fatigue,” Thomas said. “We want to hear positive news stories and we don’t want to hear about foreclosure. It’s been difficult to do advocacy.”
A panel discussion will follow the screening and include co-director Harry Gantz, John Cox (one of the foreclosed upon people who appears in the film), retired law professor Mack Murray and a local client of the Urban League who has been through foreclosure mediation and just barely saved their home.
“At the last minute they reached out for help,” Thomas said of the client. “If they had given up, they would be out of their home today.”
While the foreclosure rate remains high in Pierce County the resource situation and process have improved, Thomas said. A little over a year ago there were just two housing counselors in Tacoma. Now, there are about six, and two attorneys at the Northwest Justice Project are dedicated to foreclosure prevention and who assist homeowners at no charge.
A major boost in help to Washington homeowners came in 2011 when the Legislature passed legislation that gave indebted homeowners more time, more counseling and third-party mediation with their lenders before they lose their homes. Before then homeowners could find themselves ground down by the process of trying to save their homes, Thomas said.
Thomas acknowledges some homeowners got in to trouble because of poor financial decisions such as over relying on credit cards. But, there are plenty of pegs to hang the foreclosure crisis on, she said.
Many homes in Pierce County were bought through Federal Housing Administration financing. Those loans are more difficult to modify. In addition, drastically reduced property values put many homeowners underwater. And the fact that the federal government has sued so many banks over illegal lending tactics shows that many homeowners were victims of unscrupulous lenders, Thomas said.
After the screening and panel discussion the public can attend a reception at Corina Bakery, where a resource fair will include representatives from the Urban League, Parkview Services and The Northwest Justice Project.
“We really want people to know there is hope,” Thomas said.
Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541