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A way to stop foreclosures

Posted by Binyamin Appelbaum  April 17, 2008 09:18 AM

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1201110897_7507.jpgThe most successful foreclosure prevention program in the state of Massachusetts may be the rolling blockade orchestrated by City Life/Vida Urbana. Starting last fall, the Jamaica Plain activist group has undertaken the protection of a growing number of Bostonians living in foreclosed buildings, pledging to physically inhibit any attempted eviction.

With growing regularity, the group has sounded its trumpets, alerting supporters and the media that an eviction is scheduled. People and cameras muster outside the house in the early morning hours. And the eviction is canceled. The mortgage company backs down.

City Life's most recent victory came Tuesday, when city officials announced that Wells Fargo had indefinitely postponed an eviction of tenants from a foreclosed building on Norfolk Street in Dorchester.

Sometimes the cancellation happens the night before, and the blockade becomes a rally. Sometimes it's only clear when no constable comes to carry residents and possessions across the threshold.

What doesn't seem to vary is the result.

It has become increasingly clear that City Life/Vida Urbana -- and probably any other activist group -- effectively can prevent a given eviction simply by announcing that they plan to be in attendance.

It's the rare practical application of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle: Evictions apparently don't happen in the presence of spectators.

Take the case of Melonie Griffiths-Evans and Ocwen Financial Corp.

In late January, Ocwen filed to evict Griffiths-Evans from her Dorchester home. City Life mobilized. Protesters, media and politicians descended. Moments before the scheduled time, the eviction was called off.

Ocwen denied that it had yielded. Said there had been a misunderstanding with the constable. Rescheduled the eviction for a few weeks later. And then backed down again.

Meanwhile, the company is reselling 82 other homes in Massachusetts that it successfully claimed from the former owners. I imagine residents were evicted in at least some cases. But it's hard to say for sure. There weren't any spectators.

Photo Credit: George Rizer/Globe Staff: Homeowner Melonie Griffiths-Evans (center at bottom, clapping hands) was surrounded by media and supporters after it was announced that eviction proceedings were postponed.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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41 comments so far...
  1. What a bunch of crying liberal fools. This makes me so mad Im willing to volunteer to help evict somebody. Maybe I can toss a chair out a window and knock out a couple of those liberal protestors. If you cant pay the bills, you dont own the property, case closed. Its up to the bank if you can stay.

    Posted by Middle April 17, 08 10:17 AM
  1. This country is a disaster. If you don't pay your mortgage, you SHOULD get evicted. 'Whoa is me' is the mantra for this liberal riff-raff. Owning a house is a privilege, not a right.

    Posted by Frank S. April 17, 08 10:59 AM
  1. This is truly a slap in the face of those hard-working people who pay their mortgages and taxes. Why should we tax payers take money out of our pockets to provide free houses to those bums? This is a punishment for all the hard-working people and a reward for lazy and irresponsible people. What are we really encouraging here? What a shame!

    Posted by Jeff April 17, 08 11:07 AM
  1. It's hardly in the interest of society to have large numbers of its citizens homeless. That's why there's a homestead exemption, after all. While deadbeats shouldn't be catered to, there's a big difference between them and honest people who are just in trouble. It could happen to any of us.

    Besides, banks don't want all these buildings on their hands during a slow market. They should be more creative in working with mortgage holders to avoid foreclosures. Until then, these blockades do serve a useful function.

    Posted by Karen April 17, 08 12:20 PM
  1. I hope this blog doesn't become infected with right-wing trolls who throw around off-topic political insults. (Although I do love all the protestors holding Starbucks cups.)

    Anyway, why does this tactic work? Probably because banks are overwhelmed by the sheer number of foreclosures. The servicers are too short-staffed to keep up normal proceedings and court appearances, much less manage a PR campaign.

    In the long run, the chances that any of these foreclosed former homeowners will get to keep their homes for free is zero. Banks will get their properties back, one way or another.

    One idea: Banks could sell portfolios of these properties to some sort of collection and resale business, so they can avoid the black eye from the inevitable forced frog-march of the home squatters off the property.

    Posted by Marcus April 17, 08 12:36 PM
  1. This is exactly what will happen over time ( See Comment by Marcus below from previous thread).. There is a Tsunami of resets and foreclosures about to kick in. Wait till you see the numbers from those pending resets! Its not just inner city or less wealthy communities.. These resets affect all communities.. We'll probably get that data come late Summer..Enjoy the show...

    "One idea: Banks could sell portfolios of these properties to some sort of collection and resale business, so they can avoid the black eye from the inevitable forced frog-march of the home squatters off the property."

    Posted by Tim April 17, 08 01:32 PM
  1. "Middle" -- it's not the people who can't pay the bills who are getting foreclosed. It's regular rent-paying tenants of people who bought "investment" properties they couldn't afford, and are being evicted by banks who now own the property. They have lived in these places, in many cases for many years, through several landlords, and paid their bills the whole time.

    And they're being evicted because someone else messed up. Stopping that from happening isn't "liberal," it's called "common sense."

    Posted by Aaron April 17, 08 01:45 PM
  1. I love the blanket slaps to "liberals" in the comments here. I'm a liberal and I disagree with the apparent squatters' rights being proposed here for properties that have been legally repossessed - but 8 years of ultraconservative stewardship is what has driven this country into economic morass we're presently trying to extricate ourselves from. Please righties - grow a brain, then talk.

    Posted by Joe April 17, 08 01:53 PM
  1. Sounds like most folks who've posted so far don't know what's really going on, or if they do, they don't care--the majority of people being evicted are tenants who have been paying their rent. The owners are no longer owners. Most folks don't know that many foreclosures are happening because the owner couldn't get in touch with the person at the hedge fund who owned their mortgage to negotiate, which I can do, as my bank still owns my mortgage. So trolls go find some other questionable free market issue to gripe about. And meanwhile the taxpayers will bail out all the financiers who were raking in the dough on questionable mortgages until the market crashed. That's capitalism? Until the bailout's necessary I guess, then we're suddenly socialist, but only for the banks.

    Posted by non-troll April 17, 08 01:58 PM
  1. You guys are right - I too hope this blog doesnt become infected with left-wingers. "honest" people do not LIE about their income to buy a home they cannot afford. I cannot believe you are defending a documented liar. But the point we need to clear up is that there has never been anybody who went homeless due to foreclosure. There are rental units, available and open, for anybody who loses their home. Maybe they arent as nice as the home they lost, but hey its a roof. So please stop suggesting that people who lose a home they could not afford are going to be homeless, because you guys know that is simply not true.

    Posted by Middle April 17, 08 02:11 PM
  1. Massachusetts is definitely not liberal !!!! I have been here for 14 years. State of origin: Florida. Anyway, it seems that most of you don't understand the concept of the Time Value of Money.
    We need this economic catharsis to let the market forces re-align the housing crisis.( if this is what you want to call it ) Too many people bought over-priced houses and had no idea what they were doing. The old saying: If you don't use your brain, someone else will use it for you...... and not usually for altruistic purposes. So, let us stop our litany of economic sorrow and fix the problem at hand. Solution: Re-sell foreclosed properties to people in Boston who really need them without outrageous interest rates.


    Posted by Caruso April 17, 08 02:32 PM
  1. The sheer level of ignorance of everyone on these threads is astounding. It's either Bush's fault, the banks fault, the landlords fault, the hedge funds fault....why fault? It's called economics. It's still better than socialism, fascism, communism or any other -ism ever invented. We rode it all the way up and now we HAVE to ride it all the way down. Any help the government offers will feel good at first and then actually worsen the problem for the very people they're trying to help. It's like every other government involvement in economics/housing. Use rent control for's been repealed all over the world for a completely destroyed quality housing for the working poor and lower middle income citizens. Get the governement out of the way and the current housing problems will be shallower and end sooner for everyone.

    Posted by Pete April 17, 08 02:41 PM
  1. Good lord, non-troll. If you think the "majority" of people evicted from foreclosed homes are tenants, or that you refinance a mortgage by calling a hedge fund manager, you probably should be spending your time reading up on the industry rather than posting your opinions.

    Mind you, I'm fully in favor of tenant protections in foreclosure, but you bring up real estate and suddenly everybody and his mother has an ill-informed opinion.

    Posted by Marcus April 17, 08 02:58 PM
  1. If you read the article and the many others in the press, this is all about protecting honest, rent-paying tenants and not homeowners. Its not liberal or conservative, its just a policy decision that we want to keep properties occupied with rent paying tenants and not vacant. They are not squatters because they have a legal contract to be there.

    Posted by JB April 17, 08 03:03 PM
  1. Jeff wrote: "This is truly a slap in the face of those hard-working people who pay their mortgages and taxes. Why should we tax payers take money out of our pockets to provide free houses to those bums? This is a punishment for all the hard-working people and a reward for lazy and irresponsible people. What are we really encouraging here? What a shame!"

    I think your anger is misguided. The biggest con artists who are stealing your tax dollars is the Republican Administration/Federal Reserve guaranteeing up to $30 Billion to prevent Bear Stearns from going into bankruptcy. If we applied your logic, Bear Stearns, like any other homeowner behind on their payments, should have been foreclosed and bankruptcy proceedings would have valued their stock at $0 (after debtors are paid).

    Posted by Kyle April 17, 08 03:10 PM
  1. Post #14 is incorrect. This group of criminals also rallies at homes that are inhabited by the delinquent purchaser.

    These are idiots who bit off more than they could financially chew, and are now crying about it. The bank "owns" these houses, and these people are nothing more than thieves, trying to steal from the bank.

    I cannot afford a home on my low salary. This is why I rent. I chose not to lie and cheat my way into a mortgage that I knew I could not afford.

    Posted by Boriqua Jones April 17, 08 03:17 PM
  1. Truly heartless New England attitude expressed here. I am soooo glad that I left.

    Posted by Who me? April 17, 08 03:34 PM
  1. Again: Melonie Griffith-Evans, who is pictured above, was not a tenant. She is a squatter, a former real estate agent who quickly defaulted on her loans and still occupies the house she used to own but did not, and is not, paying for.

    If "City Life" were confining their protests to tenant evictions, that would be one thing. They are not.

    Posted by Marcus April 17, 08 03:34 PM
  1. If Bear Stearns went "Under" and the Fed didnt step in... we would have lost 25% in the stock market that Monday when the markets opened.... They had to "salavage" Bear Stearns because it was leveraged 30 to 1.... it would have frozen the crdit markets and countless other institutions would have lost Hundreds of Billions....
    So I hate the idea of bailing any private entity and private citizen.... They had to manufacture the sale to JP Morgan because they were so Levered... 30 to 1!!!!!! 30 Billion or 1 Trillion Dollars frozen/lost and the Economy and stock market in Free Fall...... It had to be done.

    Posted by Matt April 17, 08 03:48 PM
  1. If you have read about the preditory lending practices, you will know that many folks did not lie about their income. They were judged "qualified" buyers by lenders and they got loans they thought they could afford.

    I do hope those of you who have such anger towards the home owners and renters in forclosure and eviction situations never find yourselves in such a vulnerable position. I hope if you do, that there will be folks there to lend you a helping hand.

    Posted by Jamaica Plain April 17, 08 04:00 PM
  1. We already have state housing for people who suffer severe financial hardship. We dont need additional state funding for people to keep their dream homes that they never could afford in the first place. This is a punnishment to responsible citizens. Nobody ever went homeless due to foreclosure - not an owner, not a renter tennant. Nobody. It would be greatly appreciated if these lies stopped now.

    And yes, every renter has the responsibility to arrange the terms of their own rental agreement. Its not the state's fault, or the responsibility of other state citizens, if your rental agreement falls apart due to foreclosure. It is that type of thinking that has bloated government and has put the USA on a collision course with socialism.

    Posted by Middle April 17, 08 04:13 PM
  1. Melonie Griffiths-Evans should have known better, I agree, especially since she is/was a realtor and therefore should have known something about "affordable." She bought a home she couldn't afford, trusted a sleazy broker, and now she's in trouble. Sounds like it's time to find a new place to live - and a new job, since she's obviously not qualified to be a realtor.

    However,: Evicting people who pay their rent on time because their landlord lost the building seems a little wrong. And besides, if we're going to bail out Bear Stearns, I don't see why we shouldn't at least give Melonie and her kids a little more time to find a new place to live, or renegotiate her loan to a reasonable fixed-rate mortgage like she should have gotten in the first place.

    Posted by Aaron April 17, 08 04:32 PM
  1. Does this work if my car gets repossessed?
    How about a rental car I just dont want to give back?

    Finally, someone standing up for the little guy!

    Posted by John F. April 17, 08 04:36 PM
  1. Not to pick on anyone, but Middle writes:

    Its not the state's fault, or the responsibility of other state citizens, if your rental agreement falls apart due to foreclosure

    You don't know your facts at all. The law allows a bank to void a valid lease in case of foreclosure--an exception allowed to no other party. A buyer who acquires the home on the open market is bound by the lease until it expires. A foreclosing lender is not. This is a provision of law, and cannot be bargained away in lease negotiations. You are telling people it's their responsibility to do something that the law does not allow them to do.

    Here is a another bald assertion by another commenter:

    If you have read about the preditory lending practices, you will know that many folks did not lie about their income.

    "Many?" Are you implying "most?" Or even "a lot?"

    Stated-income loans made during the housing boom have proved to be riddled with exaggeration, according to the Mortgage Asset Research Institute in Reston, Va., which investigates lending fraud.

    The institute said one of its customers checked 100 stated-income loans against tax documents and found that nine in 10 of them overstated income by at least 5 percent,0,2045461.story

    Just a couple of examples of the increasingly popular American sentiment that facts are, you know, whatever you think.

    Posted by Marcus April 17, 08 04:47 PM
  1. Who's fault is it that Bear Stearns was levered 30:1? They were no different than many of the homeowners that speculated in the real estate markets and are now foreclosing. I agree that if Bear had been allowed to go into bankruptcy, our credit/stock markets would have crashed that day, but is it our fault that Bear was levered 30:1? That didn't happen because the current Administration and Federal Reserve stepped in with a handout. In the guise of saving of the markets, the Federal Reserve are now using $30 billion tax dollars to guarantee possible future losses on Bear assets. What happened to free market capitalism and when did Republicans became socialists?

    Posted by Kyle April 17, 08 05:21 PM
  1. Many posters here are making very strong assumptions about all tenants in the middle of this mess.

    I've been successfully buying real estate for 22 years and often at foreclosure. Most, if not all, tenants stopped paying the rent the moment they realized the owner was going to lose the property. They continue until the new owner takes over and ride it out for free until they can't.

    Many of these people, sometimes justified, stopped paying rent and that's what drove the owner into default.

    Anyway, the average "free ride" I've witnessed is 6-10 months of free rent. Anyone who cares to critisize my comments can only justify them with their own years of hands on experience like me. Any others are just promoting their own hype about the "innocent victims" or the "honest nature of most" but is not based on fact but rather hope. I live in the real world.

    Posted by Russ April 17, 08 08:14 PM
  1. Thank god. Someone real spoke out with his own experience. Thank you, Russ at #26.

    For all the hypocrates, answer this question: are YOU willing to pay for them to live in free houses?

    Posted by Jeff April 17, 08 08:59 PM
  1. Russ, I'm unimpressed. There are as many cases of foreclosed borrowers continuing to pocket rent payments after they have already lost the property. In any case, whether you have 26 years of experience, or two, you should know that a tenant whose landlord loses the property in foreclosure is going to be evicted regardless of he pays the rent in full or not.

    Posted by Marcus April 17, 08 09:35 PM
  1. Posted by Binyamin Appelbaum. That's all I need to know.

    Posted by MiloT April 17, 08 10:54 PM
  1. Marcus, obviously there are exceptions. Can you say you've WITNESSED hundreds of these examples as I have? Let's face it, the lenders evict for primarily 2 reasons. First, they don't want the liability of being a deep- pocketed landlord. Secondly, if tenants remain, they are often uncooperative with brokers to allow access for resale to a new owner. The longer they do this the longer it prolongs the free ride. Most individuals, even those whose rental payments have been flawless throughout their tenancy, see this as a rare opportunity to save some money.
    I just closed last week on a 6 unit property I acquired through a foreclosure sale. Four units were occuppied and only one has been faithfully paying their rent until this month. They are receiving ample funds FROM ME to assist them in relocating (reward for responsible behavior). The other three have not paid rent since June of '07!!!!!! Two were dealing drugs and one is basically a nice person, but can't resist the opportunity to live for free during the instability.
    Some tenants that I've inherited over the years have said " why would you expect me to pay rent in this dump, look at the condition" My response is often " but it's not bad enough to raise your kids here when it's FREE is it? You always had the choice to move if it was that bad!!" Not one person EVER had a response after that. They knew their "public" opinion was masking their real motivation.

    Let's all cut the c***p and let these people, previous owners included, move to other apartments and call it a day. The owner first referenced ,Melanie Griffith-Evans, according to public record, bought her house with no money down. She lost no money and as I see it, is going back to living as a tenant as previously, but hopefully learned something. Somehow though I doubt it since her "cause" has taken on a slant that she's the victim. I was raised to look in the mirror and take responsibility for the consequences in my life. Why should we expect any less from her or others?

    Posted by Russ April 18, 08 08:26 AM
  1. Also, post #28, your comment of "there are as many cases of foreclosed borrowers pocketing rent after....." is absolutely incorrect. As many? Did you read that somewhere? Are all your comments from info gathered by 3rd parties? Do some owners get away with this - sure. Is it likely or often - no and here's the reason. First, at the sale the attorney for the bank "makes entry"(legally takes possession) and after sale notifies occupants as such. Or the successful bidder notifies tenants they will be taking over or the tenants witness sale etc. etc. Or rarely a tenant asks who should they pay rent to. In all instances, the message is loud and clear - stop payments to the old landlord because he has no rights to it. PERIOD!

    Posted by Russ April 18, 08 09:14 AM
  1. You can dance around in circles until you fall down dizzy. You will not, however, be able to pirouette away from the inescapable fact that the law does not allow a tenant to remain in his apartment even if he pays his rent. One side is allowed to break the lease at will. So it is hardly surprising, given that fact that the other side does the same.

    This, I think, will change with upcoming legislation.

    Posted by Marcus April 18, 08 03:49 PM
  1. People here do have a right to call this a liberal issue. Do any of you know anything about the acutal organization conducting these demonstrations??!! City life Vida Urbana is pro-socialist and is made up of several SELF-DESCRIBED pro-communist members. Just ask City Life Steve Meacham "tenant organizer" what his political views are.

    They don't distinguish between the "honest" and "innocent" tenants. As far as they are concerned ALL low-income individuals should receive free or low cost housing with little or no mortgage payments or rent. They don't promote time limits or distinguish between people who are working and those who just don't not feel like they have to work. Several people within City Life are on Section 8 and have declared zero income for the year. City Life and other groups like NACA will continue to protest "the man" i.e. banks as long as their deadbeat clients have to actually pay money to live somewhere.

    Posted by Ned April 18, 08 05:36 PM
  1. People here do have a right to call this a liberal issue...City life Vida Urbana is pro-socialist and is made up of several SELF-DESCRIBED pro-communist members

    Thanks for confirming that they are not liberals.

    I am always amused at conservatives' assertion of the right to define what other people believe. Talk radio raises one's blood pressure, making it hazardous to both physical and mental health.

    Posted by Marcus April 18, 08 07:16 PM
  1. Housing should be a RIGHT, not a privilege.

    Posted by Frank April 19, 08 09:08 PM
  1. #35:

    You have the right to live somewhere, but not necessarily here.

    If a man cannot afford to live in this house, he must go find someplace he can afford. He does not have the right to just set up shop in any old place he feels like. Or would you be okay with a family just deciding they like your residence and moving into it with you without your consent?

    Anyway, this is specifically why I'll never buy a foreclosure. There's no legal recourse for the owner of a property to get people who don't want to leave out of a property. The cops won't help you get entrenched squatters out if there's a crowd, and if I were to physically remove them myself I'd be the one to go to jail.

    Posted by Greg D April 21, 08 08:52 AM
  1. I am an organizer with City Life. A few points.
    A conservative estimate is that 2000 households will be forcibly evicted by banks/mortgage companies in post-foreclosure buildings in 2008. A significant majority of those folks are former tenants (60-65%). Many foreclosures affect absentee owned property. The properties made vacant by eviction are vacant for longer and longer periods, now about 5 months on average. These vacancies have devastating consequences for surrounding urban neighborhoods.
    Our "Bank Tenants Assoc" includes both former tenants and resident owners, now acting in solidarity. We make a distinction between resident owners who were simply looking for a place to live and investors who were out to make a killing. Those resident owners paid an artificially inflated price, not a market price. It was artificially inflated by a finance industry seeking to nurture the real estate bubble and rake in the fees, etc., off those sales. Properties in many Boston neighborhoods now have appraised values that are half of mortgage value. In many cases, occupants of buildings (not former owners) have offered to pay banks appraised value to avoid eviction. The Banks refuse up to the point of eviction blockade. That was the case last Wednesday on Norfolk St.
    And let's be clear about one more thing. The goal of the Bank Tenants Assoc is to be allowed to pay rent to the banks, or that the Bank should take offers at appraised value from occupants. This is not a demand for public subsidy.
    The legislation proposed to fix this says simply that a foreclosing entity must have a reason to evict an occupant in foreclosed property. They can't evict no fault. Such legislation would benefit the 2000+ families faced with eviction, but it would also greatly benefit surrounding neighborhoods and even, ironically, the banks, by forcing them to transparently declare losses and move on.

    Posted by Steve Meacham April 21, 08 10:52 AM
  1. Marcus,

    Tenants' rights under the lease agreement is a junior obligation for the landlord, compared to the landlord's obligation to the lender and the town's tax collector.

    A sale agreement would be entirely differently. The sale agreement takes place after the existing lease agreement . . . so if there is no termination on sale clause in the lease contract, the tennant has the right to stay until end of lease. Such a right does not exist for lender foreclosre or tax seizure . . . for obvious reason.

    Posted by Jim April 21, 08 11:56 PM
  1. Steve,

    I appraise your own house at $100, so you must sell it to me for $100 . . . never mind it's your house. Your car? $5. I will have it, and you must sell it to me.

    The so-called "resident owner" in the neighborhoods that have seen their appraised value dropping to half of mortgage value were often accomplices in mortgage fraud! They bought the houses from family or friends for exorbitant amount of money, so the seller could cash out, and cash back to the "buyer," who took out 100% loan and never put a cent down! Take a typical $100k dump in Dorchester, at the peak of the market, a scam "investor" would buy the place for $100k, then find a friend buyer to "agree" to a new sale price of $300k, to be fully borrowed, and the seller/investor cash-back to shill buyer $100k! So the "investor" and shill each got $100k cash out of the deal, and the bank was fresh out $200k in excess of what the house was really worth! The $300k quoted price of course registered as a new "comparable," which made the next scam sale much easier. So tell me, why should some real estate scum and her friends, be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for living rent-free for a year or more ??? They were the same people who made Boston area housing unaffordable to regular working people to begin with!

    All this fraud and nonsense is making it hard for honest buyers to find banks willing to make loans nowadays.

    Posted by Jim April 22, 08 12:12 AM
  1. Why should the banks agree to let the tenants have the houses for less than originally agreed to? The tenants agreed to the artificially inflated price, that's the price they should pay. It sucks to have to move for such a reason, but this is what happens when you sign papers you don't read.

    If the banks want to take appraised value (at a substantial loss compared to the original agreement), they're obviously welcome to do that. But they do not have an obligation to do it. I suspect they think they could do better on the open market, seeing as how houses are still selling for more than appraised value.

    You say you don't want public subsidy. But you want the banks to subsidize people who overpayed. Fine, they're not getting a handout from the government, but they're still getting a handout.

    By preventing these evictions, your group is prolonging the life of the housing bubble. Prices won't correct if there are no consequences to overpaying-- and letting people say "Just Kidding" about a formal agreement once the going gets tough doesn't encourage good behavior. So instead of a sharp correction, we get a slow painful one.

    Posted by Greg D April 22, 08 08:36 AM
  1. Watch the 2nd half of Bill Moyers Journal on PBS this week; it gives a thoughtful overview of the situation. I'm thinking about volunteering to join our citizenry fight the banks that brought our economy down! Wondering if there's a similar program in New Hampshire.

    Posted by Terry L May 4, 09 12:49 PM
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Scott Van Voorhis is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate and business issues.

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