Photo by Gwen Davis
Joshua Watler, executive director of OUR Washington.

Mediators available for those facing foreclosure

By Gwen Davis

If you are facing a home foreclosure, request a mediator to help you negotiate with the bank. These mediators -- contracted and trained by the state Department of Commerce – can potentially save you from losing your home.

The mediators came about via the state’s Foreclosure Fairness Act that took effect in July 2011.

The nonprofit, OUR Washington, which helps people who are at risk of losing their home to foreclosure, or for those who already have, helped pass the act.

The mediating service is invaluable to in-crisis homeowners, according to Joshua Watler, executive director of OUR Washington.

“And the banks pay for the mediators – tax payers don’t pay at all,” he said. “Similar to the Affordable Care Act which was a launching point for further health reform, this is a launching point for further bank reform.”

However, mediators are not automatically given to people who face foreclosure. Walter is concerned that people do not know about their rights to mediators and subsequently never request one.

“How many people have super predatory loans and would easily get a reduction if they got a mediator but never do? Until people have them automatically, we will not rest.”

OUR Washington, aside from helping pass the law, serves as a social action community of mostly lower-to-moderate income earners who want change in banking and foreclosure laws, including more fairness and transparency.

OUR Washington began in December 2009 when 45 families from King, Pierce and Snohomish County joined together to fight for better schools, fairer housing practices, utility reforms and ending bank predatory-lending practices. OUR Washington now is the state’s largest community union of low-to-moderate income families, according to the organization.

“We try to have people affected by the issues have the strongest voice,” Watler said. “I believe that politicians and CEOs have staff people to help them move their agenda. But do poor people? We all have an agenda – where do low-to-moderate income people go to get things done?”

Membership fees are $10 to $30 per month. The group has 307 members.

Since its formation, the organization has facilitated change. In addition to the Foreclosure Fairness Act, in Marysville, OUR Washington got Chase Bank – along with the mayor – to agree to help the public school district with more teachers, funded by Chase.

Residents all over the state have latched on to OUR Washington for assistance.

“When I got in trouble with a foreclosure, I got in touch with Joshua,” said Maria Fusjazi who faced foreclosure last March after her and her husband’s jobs became unstable. “Through OUR Washington there was a rally at my house, with KOMO News (and the Highline Times.) It was a great experience and I got a lot of help.”

With the support of OUR Washington, Fusjazi worked with Parkview Services to come up with a proposal, which she submitted to Aurora Loans.

“We were willing to pay, but why don’t they work with us?” she said. “They were too greedy.”

Fusjazi described the process of writing letters and proposing solutions as frustrating. “Before, we didn’t qualify because we made too much money, then we didn’t qualify because we made too little. The banks were never happy.”

However Fusjazi, even with the help of OUR Washington, was not able to keep her SeaTac home, which she, her husband and children lived in for six and a half years. The family now rents a house in Burien.

Still, she is grateful for the help of OUR Washington.

“We didn’t have anyone to go to except OUR Washington,” Fusjazi said. “Joshua helped a lot with giving me advice and getting me in touch with other people. They’re helping middle-class people keep their homes and I’m really grateful for that.”

To request a mediator or get in touch with OUR Washington, visit www.ourwashington.net or call Joshua Watler at 206-293-7050.