LAWRENCE – Arthur Brien spends his days clipping legal notices advertising pending foreclosures, searching for homes about to be offered at fire-sale prices.
It’s a mission of mercy, not greed, carried out by a life-long city resident looking to help desperate families rather than make a killing on distressed real estate.
“We tell them, ‘Don’t fall for that scam; don’t give them your keys,’ “ Brien said he tells homeowners and their tenants, referring to banks and other lenders trying to get them out and rush through foreclosures. “You don’t have to leave until you’re evicted by a judge.”
Brien, a retired accountant who turns 83 on May 19, has been clipping foreclosure notices and then knocking on doors to educate homeowners and tenants about their rights for nearly a year as part of a program run by the Merrimack Valley Project, an Essex Street non-profit that advocates for homeowners, tenants, immigrants and workers in the region.
The Lawrence City Council recently handed the agency a powerful new weapon when it joined a small number of Massachusetts cities and towns that are requiring lenders foreclosing on residential properties to first go before a mediator who will ensure that everything has been tried to keep homeowners in their homes.
If the process fails, lenders will need a certificate from the mediator affirming they made a good-faith effort before they can begin foreclosing.
The law is intended to help reverse what has been a flood of residential foreclosure notices in the state’s poorest city, which peaked in 2007, when 813 homeowners received them. The number has been dropping steadily as the housing market and the economy recover, dropping to 236 last year and just 21 in the first three months of this year, according to the Warren Group, a Boston company that collects data on foreclosures and other real estate issues in New England.