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Housing: 'We Are All In This Together'
Curtis Hertel Jr.: Ingham County Register of Deeds
Originally printed 7/17/2014 (Issue 2229 - Between The Lines News)
1 You took office as the Ingham county register of deeds as the economic crisis really began to crush the community. Please discuss how you saw the crisis impact the LGBT community.
The biggest lesson learned from the foreclosure crisis is that we, as a community, are all in it together. The crisis affected everyone regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. Those of us who were not foreclosed on directly still experienced significant economic loss and a decrease in our quality of living. According to the Congressional Budget office, every foreclosure in your neighborhood reduced the value of your home by $2,500 dollars. Local governments lost millions of dollars in tax revenue. This led to severe cuts in services and quality of life in all of our communities. Ingham County lost a billion dollars in taxable value alone, in large part due to the foreclosure crisis. Of course, because of the lack of rights in Michigan for LGBT citizens, this crisis hit them disproportionately harder. The lack of job protections, legal discrimination and marriage inequality all led to LGBT citizens being more susceptible to the crisis.
2 In your role as register of deeds you have the opportunity to talk to many citizens and have heard their stories about inequity in our current system. Can you explain some of those inequities, and how they impact the LGBT community specifically?
One of the most painful calls I have received as Register was from a person who had lost their partner and was also facing the loss of their home as a direct result of the inequality in our marital laws. It seems ridiculous, but under current state law, a distant relative has more rights than a committed partner, even a partner married in another state. I was proud to be the first Register of Deeds in the State of Michigan to record a Marriage Certificate from a same-sex couple - they were married legally in another country, and we recorded the certificate along with an affidavit alleging full property rights. It is my hope that these documents can be used in court one day to challenge Michigan's marriage and property laws. Even after the Supreme Court strikes down Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage, I believe that these inequalities will still exist because of the ways Michigan's property laws are written. I have already done a review of these laws, and will have language ready once the Supreme Court rules.
3 Why have you become so engaged in the economic rights and issues movement?
I grew up in a middle class family, and I am a white straight male. Because of that, I was given opportunities that would not necessarily have been available to others. I believe that to whom much is given, much is expected. I have a duty to make sure that all people in our state have equality of opportunity. This means quality schools, affordable higher education and an end to discrimination based on gender, race and sexual orientation.
All of this became more real to me when I became Register of Deeds. In a typical year, 400 to 500 families would lose their homes to foreclosure in Ingham County. Those numbers had more than tripled in the years right before I took office in 2009. We began an intensive program, working with housing counselors to educate citizens about the ways to avoid foreclosure. Then in 2011, we began to learn about foreclosure fraud. Major banks were using forged documents to steal time and due process from our citizens. Michigan's foreclosure laws provide little protections for home owners. We found people that were foreclosed on in spite of making every payment. We found people who had signed modifications that were never honored. We found people who were serving in our military in a time of war that were foreclosed on illegally. I had a moral obligation to fight against these injustices. I created a foreclosure fraud hotline, hired an attorney to handle individual cases of fraud and sued the major banks to get back tax dollars that I believed they illegally avoided paying.
4 What three big take aways would you like the LGBT community to have on economic issues as a movement?
First, we as a state are suffering economically from our lack of equal rights. Young people don't want to live in a state where discrimination against themselves or their friends is legal. I believe we are losing a generation of talented young people, and business agrees. For the first time as a state, we have a coalition of businesses fighting to change our laws and provide real job protections for LGBT citizens.
Second, we as a state have to decide whether we are going to invest and compete for the best jobs available in our economy. The current legislature, and our current Governor, believe that the answer to a successful economy is to cut taxes and regulation. The problem with this strategy is that it has come at the expense of investing in our future. Employers do not want to locate in areas with failing schools, an unqualified workforce and crumbling infrastructure. We need to invest to compete in today's economy.
Third, we as a progressive movement have to realize that we are all in this together. The attacks on workers' rights, the lack of equal pay for women, the lack of investment in our core cities - these affect us all. In order for us to succeed as a movement, we must all work together to take back this state. We must invest in people and do so with full and equal rights for all.
5 For those folks who do not know what the Register of Deeds does, could you please explain? Also, please feel free to highlight your accomplishments in this area.
The Register of Deeds is responsible for keeping the land records of the County safe and accurate. This is essential to any capitalist system. Public information about land ownership, and land interests, makes investment and legal transfer possible. When I took office, I knew that we could do even more for our citizens, beyond keeping accessible records. Along with my work fighting illegal foreclosures and keeping people in their homes, I have also created the Property Fraud Alert System, which helps prevent fraud by giving citizens real-time access to land transactions. I invested in new technology to make recordings faster and more accurate so that business could move faster in Ingham County. I believe that every job is what you make of it. We have made the Register of Deeds office a place that fights for people and the integrity of their land records.
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