Richmond adopts eminent domain mortgage plan

A foreclosure sign hangs on a fence in front of a home in Richmond in 2011. The city is adopting a plan that could use its eminent domain powers to seize underwater mortgages.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

Richmond is adopting a plan to take over underwater mortgages that would invoke the city’s eminent domain powers if necessary.

The city will be the first in the nation to formally adopt the novel but controversial plan that was rejected by San Bernardino County and two of its cities earlier this year.


The city said it will buy home mortgages from financial institutions, write down those loans and refinance homeowners in the properties into new loans. If financial institutions do not cooperate, the city will seize the loans using eminent domain, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said.

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“This is a tool to get the job done,” McLaughlin said. “The housing crisis is still ongoing.”

The city on Tuesday sent notice to the holders of more than 620 underwater mortgages for homes in the city, asking these servicers and trustees to sell the city these loans. The city sent letters to 32 entities. The city plans further such actions in the future, officials said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday.


Eminent domain is usually used to seize land — not loans — to serve the public good, as when local governments seize blighted properties. The Richmond plan would be the first widespread attempt at using eminent domain to seize residential mortgages.

The city will team up with the San Francisco firm Mortgage Resolution Partners, which last year pitched the plan to San Bernardino and two of its cities, Fontana and Ontario. That county and the two cities formed a Joint Powers Authority to consider the eminent domain idea but then shelved it after Wall Street groups voiced sizable opposition and little public support was heard. The county and the two cities were the first communities to consider the plan.


The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association of New York has been a hefty opponent of the eminent domain plan, with its managing director appearing before a number of municipal meetings to speak against it. On Tuesday, the group reaffirmed its disapproval in a brief email to The Times.

McLaughlin, the Richmond mayor, said on Tuesday that city officials had spoken to members of the group but remained resolute to move forward despite their opposition.


“We are just not going to back down; we really feel it is the responsibility of the servicers and the banks to fix this, and they haven’t, so we are taking this into our own hands,” she said. “It is our community that is at stake here.”

Mortgage Resolution Partners will provide the funding for Richmond to purchase the loans and also finance any litigation.



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