St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay wants to raise the city's minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. But the big could run into legal problems if Gov. Jay Nixon doesn't sign a bill authorizing increases before August 28.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis’ political leadership will make a quick attempt to raise the city’s minimum wage, a public policy initiative they contend is economically and morally just.

But whether the city possesses the authority to raise its minimum wage is something of a moving target – and could depend on whether a bill that many Democrats despise is enacted into law.

House Minority Leader Jake Hummel, D-St. Louis, and Rep. John Rizzo, D-Kansas City, meet the press after the House adjourned for the year in May. Both men voted to dissolve foreclosure mediation ordinances in 2013.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

Republicans aren’t often compared to Russian communists. But that’s what happened recently after GOP members of the Missouri House helped pass legislation pre-empting cities from banning plastic bags, raising minimum wages or requiring certain work benefits. House Minority Leader Jake Hummel accused his Republican colleagues in a statement of believing that “Soviet-style central state planning is superior to local control.”

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So, another week, and yet more news the U.S. housing market is slowly returning to normal.

Numbers released on Tuesday by the Commerce Department show that builders broke ground on homes last month at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 917,000. That's up from 910,000 in January. And it's the second-fastest pace since June 2008, behind December's rate of 982,000.

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Illinois homeowners facing foreclosure may soon be eligible for up to $35,000 in mortgage assistance.

Gov. Pat Quinn announced that beginning April 1 the Illinois Housing Development Authority is increasing the amount eligible households may receive from the Illinois Hardest Hit program. Currently homeowners may receive $25,000.

Quinn's office says the increase will help an additional 500 families keep their homes.

The program is funded through the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Quinn says it has helped more than 7,000 homeowners avoid foreclosure since 2011.

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Updated at 4:52 p.m. to correct judge's name.

A judge in St. Louis city has halted enforcement of the city's new foreclosure mediation ordinance.

Robert Dierker issued the temporary restraining order today, which prohibits any city officials from enforcing the ordinance. Dierker does take care to note that voluntary participation in mediation is still allowed.  A hearing on a preliminary injunction is scheduled for March 20.

Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen met today for the last time ahead of the mayoral and aldermanic elections in March and April. Here's what came out (and didn't) of a hectic day at City Hall:

Foreclosure mediation

Aldermen sent Mayor Francis Slay a measure that would require lenders to offer homeowners foreclosure mediation. The homeowners do not have to accept, and there's no requirement to reach an agreement.

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Late Wednesday afternoon Associate Circuit Judge Brenda Stith Loftin ruled that St. Louis County does have the authority to enforce a new ordinance that requires banks offer mediation to homeowners on the edge of foreclosure.

St. Louis County Counselor Pat Reddington said their central argument before the court was that they were not trying to regulate banks.

“We’re trying to protect our residents,' Reddington said.  "We argued, and the court found, that was in the kind of police power the county has.”  

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A restraining order that prevents St. Louis County from enforcing a new law that would require banks to offer mediation to homeowners facing foreclosure continues this week.

St. Louis County and bankers are in the midst of a legal battle over whether or not the county has the authority to enforce the ordinance.

No matter what happens in the court case, St. Louis City Mayor Francis Slay says the city should continue to push ahead with a similar law.

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Casandra Sheperd is about to be evicted from her home in north St. Louis County.

On a recent afternoon, the soft spoken woman with an easy smile is standing in a room with 20 years’ worth of possessions stacked to the ceiling.

“Every box is hard, you know, because everything has a memory,” Sheperd says. “You know, you pack, you stack, you cry, but you keep moving."

Sheperd lost her job at an insurance company a couple of years ago and started getting behind on her mortgage payments.

(via Flickr/taberandrew)

The St. Louis County Council approved additional changes to an ordinance that requires lenders to offer mediation to homeowners on the edge of foreclosure.

The tweaks to the ordinance include removing the right for homeowners to sue lenders after they’ve gone through mediation, and they come in the shadow of an ongoing legal battle with lenders over whether the county even has the authority to enforce the ordinance.

Councilwoman Hazel Erby first introduced the mediation plan and is confident in the county’s case.  

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The Missouri Bankers Association has filed a lawsuit against St. Louis County over a new ordinance that requires lenders to offer mediation to homeowners facing foreclosure.

The trade group’s president, Max Cook, said they plan to argue that it has a laundry list of legal problems. 

“Not the least of which is statute that says when it comes to banking laws, and rules, and regulation, no entity, be it a county, a city, what have you, can pass an ordinance or a rule more restrictive than that of the state of Missouri,” Cook said.

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A new ordinance could offer struggling St. Louis City homeowners an option to help avoid foreclosure.

The program would extend a loan mediation process to any homeowner who requests it from their bank, just like the one passed two weeks ago in St. Louis County. Ignoring this request would cost a lender a $500 fine.

But, banks claim the laws violate state statutes prohibiting government intervention into the foreclosure process.  They say it would mean fewer loans and increased costs.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay disagrees.

(via Flickr/taberandrew)

Lenders in St. Louis County will soon be required to offer mediation to homeowners on the edge of foreclosure.

Councilwoman Hazel Erby, who introduced the new plan, told council members something had to be done to help slow the rate of foreclosures in the county.

“On behalf of the many families who contacted me over the last year and shared their difficult stories about losing their homes,” Erby Said. “I hope they know that this ordinance is in their honor.”

For the second week in a row, residents lined up to tell councilmembers that mandatory mediation would help save homeowners facing foreclosure.

But Councilwoman Hazel Erby, who sponsored the bill, moved to table its final passage at least until next week.

“We’re looking over some things,” Erby said.  “We just received some letters, so, we’re taking those into consideration.”

When asked, Erby didn’t specify what additional information needed to be considered.

The St. Louis County Council moved forward tonight with a bill that would require lenders to offer mediation for homeowners on the edge of foreclosure.

During a public meeting on the plan, many community members told the council that mediation may have saved them from foreclosure.

For Councilwoman Kathleen Kelly Burkett, it was personal.   She was on the edge of tears when she told the story of foreclosing on her mother’s house.  

Councilwoman Hazel Erby, who originally introduced the bill, said they have to take action now.  

Saying it wants "to protect homeowners from surprises and costly mistakes by their mortgage servicers," the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau today proposed new rules it believes would make the home loan process simpler and give struggling homeowners more of a chance to avoid foreclosures.

(via Flickr/Indofunk Satish)

St. Louis alderman killed in car crash

Members of the St. Louis Board of Alderman are mourning the loss of a colleague this morning. The Missouri Highway Patrol has confirmed that 54-year-old Gregory Carter, Alderman of the 27th ward has died in an early morning crash on eastbound 370 in St. Charles County.

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A bill introduced at the St. Louis County Council meeting last night would require lenders give homeowners a chance to go into mediation before foreclosure.

On the surface the bill is straightforward, but the details of the process could take months to iron out. 

Nevertheless, Councilwoman Hazel Erby said as the foreclosure crisis lingers she felt compelled to ask for the bill’s introduction.

(Joseph Leahy/St. Louis Public Radio)

Troubled Missouri home owners can expect a degree of relief from a national mortgage settlement that has been reached with five of the nation’s largest mortgage lenders.

The Show-Me State is being awarded more than $196 million of a $25 billion settlement with banks -- including Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase -- over allegations of lending abuses and improper foreclosure procedures.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster says the settlement does not close the door on possible criminal charges against mortgage lenders.

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Illinois home foreclosure activity rose 4 percent in June compared to the previous month, but was down 25 percent from one year earlier.

A report released Thursday by Irvine, Calif.-based RealtyTrac shows Illinois with 6,541 homes receiving initial foreclosure filings last month.

Another 1,944 properties were scheduled for auction sale and 2,529 properties were repossessed by banks.

Looking at the first six months of the year, Illinois foreclosure activity fell 29 percent compared to the same period last year.