ST. PETERSBURG — Foreclosure prevention was a top platform in St. Petersburg council member Karl Nurse's campaign last year to win District 6, where housing defaults cluster at a higher rate than the city average.
So it was in keeping with his election promises that Nurse sought to pass a measure Thursday that he said would help those hurt by the surge of shuttered homes, namely neighbors and tenants of foreclosed homes. He wanted city staff to consider forcing banks and mortgage companies to register so they can more easily be reached when officials encounter problems with the distressed properties.
But Nurse suddenly dropped the issue after speaking with one of his top campaign supporters Wednesday night.
Brian Shuford, a lobbyist for the Pinellas Realtor Organization, said the city already had this information and such a registry was redundant, Nurse said. Shuford's group endorsed Nurse in his November race against Vel Thompson.
Nurse's reversal, however, didn't make sense to Noah Koves, a law student at Stetson University College of Law and a volunteer with Gulf Coast Legal Services, which tries to prevent tenants from losing homes that have been foreclosed. He said the city doesn't have such a list and a registry is still needed.
Koves said he had explained this to Nurse after meeting with him in early January. After that meeting, Nurse agreed to ask the city to consider the registry by reviewing similar requirements in Hillsborough County and Tampa, which adopted registries last year.
It wasn't until he was contacted by a reporter that Koves learned Nurse had dropped it after talking to Shuford.
"Really?" Koves said. "To have one Realtor call him and change his mind like that seems ridiculous. (Nurse) was just bringing up the registry for a discussion. I'm extremely disappointed."
It did seem like a sudden change of heart for Nurse, who only Tuesday had said the registry was a tool needed to combat a crisis.
"Foreclosures are a tidal wave," Nurse said then. "They keep getting worse."
But at the end of a long meeting Thursday, Nurse essentially said never mind. He quickly explained to council members that he had spoken with Shuford and that the lobbyist had told him the city already tracks the information.
The other council members didn't object and the item was removed with little discussion.
After the meeting, Nurse couldn't identify which city department had a contact list of owners of foreclosed properties. He said he'll speak with city staff and get a list in a "matter of days."
"We may find there isn't enough information," Nurse said. "The housing committee won't meet until later in the month. I'll find out then if it's not going to work."
Nurse said Shuford was only giving him advice.
"I didn't ask what his motivation was," Nurse said. "I don't think he had a hidden agenda."
Shuford didn't return a phone call about why he objected to the registry.
The registry in Hillsborough County has been a success, said John FerDon, a business analyst with code enforcement. The county requires those who sue for default pay a $100 fee and provide contact numbers. Commissioners passed the ordinance late last year after code enforcement officers explained the difficulty they had in getting owners to address violations.
"The banks are paying a lot more attention now that we have the registry," FerDon said. "We have the same number of code violations, but we're seeing a faster turnaround in the time it takes to get them to comply."
The county has fielded only one complaint. It too came from a Realtor, Pat Rutledge, of Coldwell Banker, and a member of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors. Rutledge said the registry makes it harder to list homes, burdening banks with too much paperwork. It's much more effective for homeowner associations or government to clean up the homes themselves. They can collect damages by placing a lien on the homes, Rutledge said.
"(A registry) complicates putting the home on the market," she said.
But FerDon, in an e-mail, said there's one problem when governments are stuck with caring for foreclosed properties, even with liens.
"We rarely collect," FerDon said.
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at (727) 893-8037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.