By A.J. Hazarabedian

The City of Hesperia is considering an interesting use of eminent domain during its upcoming City Council meeting.  The Victorville Daily Press reported this week that the City may decide to use eminent domain to acquire underwater mortgages in an attempt to help homeowners.

As the article describes, the City will discuss whether or not they will join a new joint powers authority (JPA) aimed at helping homeowners whose mortgages are underwater due to declining home values.  The joint powers authority would consist of the City of Hesperia, City of Fontana, City of Ontario and the County of San Bernardino.

What’s interesting is that the JPA would not be acquiring the homes themselves as is common in the use of eminent domain.  Here, they would be acquiring only the mortgages so that the loans could be restructured.  Kelly Malloy, spokeswoman for the City of Hesperia states in the article, “the city is really looking at participating in this in order to be part of the dialogue and to be part of the research project.”

Many cities have been left with blighted neighborhoods after homes have gone into foreclosure and the properties eventually end up in despair.  This JPA sounds like an interesting attempt to avoid such cases in Hesperia.

The council will meet Tuesday, June 12th at 6:30pm to discuss this and other issues.

Whether the JPA can exercise the power of eminent domain for this purpose is questionable.  Eminent domain can only be exercised for a public use.  While there is some ostensible public interest in preventing foreclosure blighted neighborhoods, this seems to be stretching the public use requirement to its limits.  If the City decides to proceed, we doubt the lenders will take it lying down (unless, of course, the JPA intends to purchase the loans for the full loan balance – which is doubtful).

Stay tuned on this one…