Jordan Fogal

Arbitrating Away Our Lives & The American Dream (Homeless in Houston - Vol. II)

One word is never mentioned as a cause of the rising foreclosure rates: arbitration.

Every reason imaginable is listed for the rise in foreclosures, except one: arbitration.

Perhaps, the word is not mentioned because it is being used in platform speeches by most Republican candidates and touted as one of their many accomplishments? For example, Governor Perry here in Texas is mighty proud.

Conservatives say they have given us tort reform. Sounds like a present or a gift, doesn't it? They didn't do this for us. They did this to us.

Even if the public (besides the ones of us who have learned the hard way) does wake up by next year, 1.3 million homeowners nationwide will have lost their homes. No, not all because of tort reform and arbitration laws. But a lot of them will be. And how will we know how many of us there really are?

This insidious infection invades families one by one. Then it spreads on to entire subdivisions. In Colorado for instance, one of every 127 households is foreclosed on and entire neighborhoods are empty.

We have a subdivision here in Round Rock Texas where the homes are so defective that no realtor will even list them.

And yet, the families who used to live in these defective homes can't sue because they have no seventh amendment rights.

These families didn't care if they could sue the developers when they bought their houses. They aren't the kind of people who think about suing anybody. They are just really nice people. I met some of them in Austin through HOBB (Homeowners for Better Building.) An African-American black man with slurred speech dragged along behind us, his right arm hanging useless at his side. He walked all daylong through that capitol in horrible pain. I do not see how he kept up all day. My feet were killing me and I was exhausted. I had to sit down several times but he just kept on walking. His wife had cooked fried chicken and made potato salad and asked us to eat with them after we finished the tour of "OUR" capitol. The man had retired from the post office, he had bought a new home and paid a large down payment. He had been saving for years. He had a low monthly payment and had paid for his cars. This man had planned for his retirement and was going to enjoy it. Until his house got eaten up by mold and started to decay and leak and his driveway buckled so badly that he could no longer get his cars in his garage.

He went everywhere asking for help and finally he didn't know what to do so he made a sign that said what was wrong with his house and he stood there all day like a statue in the sun just holding his sign. When it finally got dark he walked back into his moldy, smelly, rotting house as the phone rang.

His builders' lawyers were on the phone and said they were filing suit on him the next morning.

They didn't. He had a stroke that night.

Once, when we actually got into one of the offices and started to talk about what arbitration and bad building had done to us, he told me, “you push me up in front so they have to look at me. I can't speak so well for myself anymore, but I want to know they see what they did.”

I ate fried chicken with them out of the back of their truck that night in the parking lot off to the side of the capitol. The lights shown up on the capital dome. That building was magnificent and the food was so good. His wife couldn't be still, her eyes had kept filling up with tears all day. She kept saying she had to keep busy not to think about things. We sat under the stars and stared at the building that we should have felt such pride in and all I felt was shame.

This couple made me not feel sorry for myself. They made me so sad and so angry for them.

We tried to talk to Senators and Representatives, but for the most part young interns and aids with scrubbed faces and eyes that glazed over in boredom and disinterest accompanied by plastic smiles were sent out to greet us. Most had no idea what we were even talking about. We told them we lived in an ADR State we had to go to TRCC for RCLA and SIRP and we were not able to afford AAA. They had little steno pads and took our names, some gave us their cards, some offered us little candies from glass dishes. They said the person they were fronting for would just be so interested.

They would get back with us. Smile. Dismissed.

On to Washington. My Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, whom I have written, faxed and emailed so many times in the past 3 years...I received two replies. The last one just tells the story. It was dated October 17, 2006 and said: Dear Mr. and Mrs. Fogal, Thank you for contacting me about the revision of the 1996 Telecommunications Act...........

Who is on first in Senator Hutchinson’s office? And somebody please tell me, what is the 1996 Telecommunications Act?

Why isn't the press all over this one?
How many houses go into foreclosure because of defects and arbitration? Nobody knows and nobody wants to know....
Maybe because it is too time consuming to try to ferret out the actual numbers. Especially when many homeowners come out of arbitration under gag orders, excuse me—secrecy agreements. Arbitration is a private little get-together where homeowners are punished for buying defective houses with arbitration clauses.

Behind these closed doors, no media is ever allowed and horror stories are played out. The arbitrator and builders play out their roles as the seasoned actors that they are. They have been given the scripts and they know their lines by heart because they have done this play so many times. They are all bored and it shows. We all have stage fright. They make jokes, get up, and walk around laughing. The homeowner doesn't get a script and she wasn't told about rehearsals, and even had to pay full price just to be a day player.

Talk about ticket scalpers, she has paid dearly to be a part of this show. She will do her best as an amateur against seasoned actors, and then will have to wait for as long as 30 days for the reviews. The reviews are mailed out. No one wants all the drama of seeing someone read their own obituary. There is no appeal because the show is closed.

In many cases you still owe AAA or your builder for wasting their valuable time.
Wonder why more people just quietly move into apartments and let their houses go into foreclosure. They can't afford to go to the show, much less get back stage passes.

This process is insidious, humiliating and degrading. It is also shameful. But the show must go on...

Not one Republican will admit what they have done and not one has said they are sorry.

Break a leg.

Jordan Fogal: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 9:11 AM, Nov 22, 2006 in
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As an Austin attorney who represents both homeowners and builders, I share in your disgust with the system. It doesn't protect the homeowners, and it doesn't help weed out the bad "builders."

I still remember watching the Senate floor "debate" over the adoption of the new rules, and I was shocked that no one actually understood what was being voted on. I only hope that recent change (and Strayhorn's public outcry over the TRCC) might bring some reform.

Keep up the fight.

Posted by: Brooks Schuelke | November 22, 2006 10:22 AM