CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada lawmakers who earlier this month sought to pull the plug on a program that helps homeowners fend off foreclosure reversed course Wednesday, voting to extend the program for another two years.
Members of a joint Assembly and Senate budget committee voted to keep the Foreclosure Mediation Program in place for the next biennium with the intent of discontinuing it after that. The move comes as Nevada foreclosures have dropped dramatically since their recession peak, but the rate remains high relative to other states.
"I appreciate those who have worked on bringing this back to us because we clearly still have a foreclosure problem in this state," Democratic Sen. Debbie Smith said.
Earlier this month, members of a legislative budget subcommittee recommended phasing out foreclosure mediation by the end of the year and putting the nearly $3 million in savings elsewhere. The program, which was created in 2009 and brokered negotiations between more than 7,500 beleaguered borrowers and lenders at its peak year five years ago, is projected to serve one-tenth that number in the coming year. It has long had a low participation rate.
"We're not helping very many people," Kirner said about the mediation program. "There's a general sense that while things aren't rosy in terms of foreclosure, we're starting to curve up. The signs are positive."
But Democratic lawmakers were hesitant to put the program to pasture. Assemblywoman Heidi Swank, a Las Vegas Democrat, pointed out that about 282,000 Nevada homes were considered "deeply underwater" last winter.
Keith Tierney, a Reno attorney who was a mediator in the program's early years and has advocated for it before the Legislature, said the program is much cheaper than other options available to financially strapped borrowers.
"The law should remain in effect as long as we have foreclosures," he told The Associated Press. "The program is the only way the homeowner can get some of the abusive practices of the lender addressed, aside from filing an injunction."