Housing

In Florida, a Housing Rebel Wants to Be Part of the System


Renzo Salazar is seen reflected in a window as he maintains the yard around a foreclosed home after the bank hired him to keep the home from falling into complete dilapidation in Miami, Florida.

Photograph by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Renzo Salazar is seen reflected in a window as he maintains the yard around a foreclosed home after the bank hired him to keep the home from falling into complete dilapidation in Miami, Florida.

Local elections for county recorders and clerks rarely draw much attention or excitement. The position, after all, is essentially one of master file-keeper. On Aug. 14, voters in Palm Beach will face the question of whether their local county clerk can and should be more than a paper-pusher.

Lisa Epstein, a housing advocate, is challenging Democratic incumbent Sharon Bock for the relatively obscure role of Palm Beach County Clerk of Circuit Court on a platform saying that clerks can help stop banks from robo-signing foreclosure documents. As we’ve reported before, a mini-movement of local county recorders and clerks have become activists, trying to challenge banks on irregular paperwork or sidestepping the county offices entirely. The Palm Beach election is drawing national attention. Neil Barofsky, the former special inspector general for the bailout,  has endorsed her. Blogger Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism threw her support behind Epstein in a post titled “Get Everyone You Know in Palm Beach County to Vote for Lisa Epstein for Clerk of the Court Next Tuesday.”

A former oncology nurse, Epstein learned about the paperwork mess when she helped a patient facing foreclosure, she told the Palm Beach Post in 2010. She started a website, ForeclosureHamlet.org, to connect homeowners and began digging through property records and documents to discover where banks were using faulty paperwork to foreclose on homeowners. (A Bloomberg Businessweek cover story from October 2010 is a great primer on robo-signing.) Epstein was one of the housing advocates who helped garner national attention for the issue. “We used to be the wacko fringe; now we’re cutting-edge,” Epstein told the Post. “Finally, my questions are being asked by reporters and attorney generals nationwide.”

Epstein says the county clerk is tasked with maintaining accurate and complete records, so it therefore has the authority to investigate if files are fraudulent. Bock, the incumbent, says the position has limited powers of oversight and has refrained from joining the legal challenges raised in some other counties. “I do not get into lawsuits lightly,” she told the Post. The election in Palm Beach is a primary contest, but since there’s no Republican challenger, the vote is open to all parties and will decide who will be clerk.

Weise_190
Weise is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York. Follow her on Twitter @kyweise.

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