My name is Jonathan Dever, your state representative seeking re-election to the 28th House District this fall. As a lawyer who represents homeowners facing foreclosure, I’ve helped people all over the state. However, that is not where I began my career. Early on, I represented the banks. This is the story of that transition.
The system was kicking out thousands of vacant and abandoned homes, and there was no one to pick up the pieces. I thought I could help my clients and the community by encouraging real estate investors to buy up vacant and abandoned properties in places that were hit hardest.
I tried to aid this process in any way I could, including posting blogs and even offering free information online. At the end of the day, we needed someone to show up and invest their time, energy and money in these blighted homes.
In the midst of all that, and like many of my clients and millions of Americans, I too was sued by a bank in foreclosure. I came head to head with the very folks I was representing.
Prior to the Great Recession, I had purchased an investment property and took out a mortgage. I made my monthly payments to my lender every month without a second thought until one of my tenants kicked over a candle and set the building on fire. Thankfully no one was hurt.
It turned out that my lender, rather than forwarding my insurance escrows to the insurance company, decided to keep the premiums. As a result, I was left with a fire-damaged property worth less than what I owed. When my bank attempted to foreclose on the property, I fought back by suing the lender for its own negligence.
It was a humiliating experience. I had never felt like that before. It was hard on me and the people I loved. Fortunately, the resolution of my story is much happier than what many others in Ohio have experienced. We settled out of court and fixed the problem by working together.
That experience changed me forever.
I switched sides overnight and became a foreclosure defense attorney. I did not allow my family to be a victim of abuse and decided to do everything I could to fight back for others.
The real problem was the laws were stacked against the homeowner. There were no ways to cure the blight created by a broken system. I was able to defend myself, but thousands of others had no idea they had rights. What was missed in this conversation was the loss families and seniors faced when their neighborhoods were shattered.
Having worked for both sides put me in a unique position. I understood what it felt like to be a victim of the banks. Families threatened by foreclosure are often losing their biggest assets: their identity, their part of the American Dream, and the embarrassment of having to move. Foreclosure displaces kids from school districts, results in bankruptcy, and can even be the impetus for divorce.
What I learned from my personal experiences and my clients lead to the largest overhaul of our system in decades. The first of two reforms cleaned up fraud, vacant and abandoned properties, and streamlined data collection for code enforcement. For the first time in Ohio, local governments have power to clean up their streets. It passed the House with unanimous support and was cosponsored by nearly half of the Ohio House, including Rep. Alicia Reece and Minority Leader Fred Strahorn. The second reform created a first-of-its-kind program in the nation called the “DOLLAR DEED Program,” which allows families to stay in their homes as tenants with the right to buy it back instead of facing a foreclosure.
In my darkest and toughest moment, I was fortunate to find my footing and worked the problem in front of me. I ran for office to stand up for those that have not found theirs. In my first term, I worked tirelessly to fight for the rights of those without a voice while reforming our business climate and investing in our schools and infrastructure. If elected for a second term I will continue to build upon this progress and be your advocate in Columbus.