Homeowners in Richmond, Calif., who are struggling to pay their mortgages could soon get help from the city.
In 4 to 3 vote, the city council has signed off on a controversial plan that will permit the city to use eminent domain to seize homes that have mortgages higher than their actual market value. The plan could affect more than 620 mortgages loans for properties in the city, Reuters notes.
If the note holders on the properties — whose owners are either “underwater” in terms of market value, or behind in payments — decline Richmond’s bids to buy the mortgages at a discount, the city can seize the properties through eminent domain.
The plan is the idea of Mortgage Resolution Partners. The group has tried to implement it in other jurisdictions, but Richmond will become the first city to use eminent domain to acquire delinquent and underwater mortgages.
Opponents warn that using eminent domain to seize the properties could raise mortgage rates for city residents and may expose the city to potentially expensive lawsuits from lenders.
Some mortgage investors are already suing to prevent the plan’s implementation through an action filed in U.S. District Court by trustees Deutsche Bank (DB) and Wells Fargo (WFC).
The city hopes to use the plan to prevent homeowners from losing their homes by refinancing the loans of seized properties to more affordable terms. Housing advocates see the plan as a way to prevent homeowners from losing their properties and combat urban blight.