Jim Rokakis’ recurring nightmare: Being thwarted by the Evil Empire in Columbus

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Legislators are once again trying to stop Jim Rokakis from saving people's homes
This week’s Screaming Into The Void award goes to Cuyahoga County Treasurer Jim Rokakis. For the past year, he’s been using a surplus in delinquent tax collections -- known as DTAC -- to keep some county families from losing their homes in foreclosure. Rokakis’ program offers families $3,000 loans, but they don’t go to just anybody. In order to qualify, people must show they can keep making their payments… “It sounds trite,” says Rokakis. “But I’m just trying to help people keep their homes.” Unfortunately, his program is now threatened by an opponent he’s all too familiar with: the Ohio legislature. A little back story: In 2002, Cleveland, Dayton, and Toledo passed laws intended to curb the spread of predatory lending in their cities. But before they had a chance to take effect, Columbus interceded, pre-empting the rights of cities to enact their own laws. At the time, Republican-run state government was taking huge campaign contributions from banks, and they didn’t want anything interfering with the cash flow. We all know how that worked out. At one point, Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery even sued the city of Cleveland to prevent it from protecting its own residents. “What did that say to the lending industry?” asks Rokakis. “There’s no sheriff in town.” But those happy little Republicans never quite learned their lesson. Today, Rokakis is fighting against a bill introduced by Rep. Matt Huffman (R-Lima). Huffman wants to limit DTAC spending to two options: razing homes or going after big lenders. In other words, if the passes, Rokakis’ program is over. Though Rokakis says he’s hopeful cooler heads will prevail, that’s asking a lot from Columbus, whose idea for dousing a burning home seems to usually always gasoline and marshmallows. “I find it ironic,” says Rokakis, “that a member of the legislature that turned a blind eye to this issue is once again saying to a distressed urban area, ‘We’ll tell you what’s good for you.’” – Caleb Hannan

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