7 Foreclosure Horror Stories (And One Possible Win)
This week, Christine Frazer and her family were thrown out of the Atlanta home they'd lived in for 18 years, at gunpoint in the dead of night.
They were not set upon by robbers, but by the Dekalb County Sheriff's department, which evicted the family at the request of Investors One Corporation. As Steven Rosenfeld reported for AlterNet, it was the fourth company to buy the family's mortgage in eight months.
The Frazers' eviction is horrifying, but sadly their story is all too common. Senator Sherrod Brown, who's introduced legislation aiming to curtail the worst practices, called it “a longstanding ugly pattern of homeowner abuse.”
"You can basically throw a dart off a building and hit someone with a foreclosure horror story,” said Matt Browner Hamlin of Occupy Our Homes. “This is the whole point -- that the crisis is being driven by fraud and criminality by the banks. Three million people didn't wake up one morning and decide to just stop paying their mortgages."
Around the country, families are being tossed out of their homes with astonishing regularity, with local law enforcement enlisted to do the bidding of big banks that own and resell the mortgages, utterly detached from the people whose lives are turned upside-down in the process. It's easy to just look at statistics and forget the human stories behind the numbers, so here are six stories of families who've had to fight all sorts of shady tactics to try and stay in their homes—and one family that might just beat the bank and get to keep their home, with the help of local activists.
1. Harried into Health Crisis in Hempstead, New York
Charles Pollydore worked on Wall Street, not as a trader, but in IT. He was laid off when the markets collapsed, but kept paying his $4,200 monthly mortgage to Bank of America. “I used my 401k, I used everything I had, emergency funds, everything to keep the mortgage going under the pretext that I was going to get a job soon,” he told AlterNet. “I had to get on welfare, get on food stamps, to get my light and my gas to stay on. I needed Medicaid because I need medical coverage badly.”
But he didn't find a job, and his diabetes worsened—he's legally blind and is facing the amputation of a second toe after losing one--and he wound up on disability. “My doctors said 'We're not going to allow yourself to jeopardize the health you have right now to keep looking for a job,'” he said. His health has dramatically deteriorated since his fight with the bank began.
Pollydore, a member of the group New York Communities for Change, has been repeatedly applying for a mortgage modification to no avail, sending documentation, bank statements, hardship letters, and more, but over and over the bank claims it hasn't received the information. BofA refused to offer him a principal reduction despite being presented with proof of his disability income. “Their strategy is to break the backs of homeowners so that you give up and you walk away,” he said.
He's reached out to his congresswoman, Carolyn McCarthy, and to the attorney general's office, but was told he had to work with Bank of America. “What protection is there for people like myself?” he asked.
“I told one of the [bank] executives, 'You guys are going to have to board the house up with me inside and let me rot and die.'”
2. Fabricated Documents in Rochester, New York
Leonard Spears is 5-feet, 6 inches tall, balding and African American, but Wells Fargo, when serving a summons to foreclose on the Rochester home he'd been fixing up, apparently served a 6-foot man with blond hair. Spears, of course, says he was never served, and Wells Fargo has a history not only of predatory lending (it paid an $85 million fine for pushing borrowers who were qualified for better loans into more risky subprime loans) but of foreclosure fraud as well.
“It took me three years to convert it into the way it looks now, I did a lot of wiring, tore down all the walls, gave up my social life completely because I was dedicated to do this, because this is like the American Dream, to own property, so it was very exciting,” Spears said.
To make matters worse, it turns out that Wells Fargo wasn't even the owner of the note, but merely the servicer. And then, when the foreclosure did go through, the home was sold to the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (commonly known as Freddie Mac) for all of $500. Yet Spears wasn't able to modify his mortgage to stay in his home. “I was willing to pay way more than $500,” Spears said. “What kind of justice is that?”
Take Back the Land Rochester, Occupy Rochester and others are fighting to get Spears back in his home—there's a petition you can sign.
3. Threatening Phone Calls in Waterford, Michigan
After a car accident Kathryn Nava wound up on disability and had trouble making her mortgage payments. She had a friend who was willing to help her make her back payments, but that friend wanted to see a payment history before giving her the money. Nava called her mortgage lender to request that history—and was told it would cost her $50 per hour, and take 90 days to receive it.
So she tried again, calling the president of the company. She got a voicemail response that shocked her so much she recorded it and saved it.
“Let me enlighten you, Kathy. First of all, there's nothing in your contract with us says we owe you any history, now, next year, five years from now or the next time...I've begun foreclosure today. I bet you're sorry now that you made that phone call. I don't need to put up with your crap, OK?...Bottom line, I'm doing nothing for you now.”
Indeed, she did end up losing her home.
4. Illegal Eviction in Los Angeles
Eduardo Acosta and his family had won their case—a judge ruled that Green Century Investment Group/IndyMac had no right to foreclose on the family, that they'd filed fraudulent paperwork.
A month later, the local sheriff posted an eviction notice to the family anyway.
This came on the heels of an audit of California foreclosures by the San Francisco County Recorder, which found that 99 percent of the foreclosures examined had “irregularities,” and there were clear violations of state law in 84 percent of them.
Acosta had applied for a mortgage modification after his payment shot up to $2,000 a month, his wife fell ill, and his monthly income plummeted. But while the bank reviewed his modification request, it also began foreclosure proceedings—a common enough process that it has a name, “dual tracking.” There's a bill in the Senate that aims to ban the practice and only allow lenders to proceed with foreclosure after working with borrowers. This process all-too-often allows for “accidental” foreclosures, where one side of the company forecloses on a home that another department is ostensibly working to help the family keep.
Occupy LA posted a call for help for the Acosta family after their eviction notice. “I’m sure there are a lot of people going through this,” Acosta said. “Let’s step up and help each other out.”
The Acostas are still in their home as of the latest report, but keeping them there has required a constant fight.
5. Sent to the Psychiatric Ward in Lodi, Wisconsin
An Associated Bank representative helped send Bill Schroeder to a psychiatric ward for 72 hours after a telephone argument over Schroeder's missed mortgage payments.
Schroeder told the Wisconsin State Journal that during their conversation the bank rep called him “worthless” and said the bank didn't care what happened to him as long as it got its money.
"I made an offhand response," Schroeder said. "I said, ‘Maybe I'll just go get my gun and shoot myself and you can have my life insurance.'"
They hung up and Schroeder made a trip to the grocery store. When he got back, a police car was in his driveway to take him to the hospital.
The bank rep was apparently slightly more concerned about Schroeder's health than he let on and had called the police. Yet it didn't seem to occur to the bank that perhaps the way to show real concern for homeowners' mental health would be to not make threats in the first place.
The Schroeder family wound up selling their home in a short sale, which left them still owing the bank $31,256 to make up the difference between their mortgage and the sale price of the home, which was down $66,000 after the bursting of the housing bubble. They estimated to the State Journal that they'll be making payments on a house they don't have anymore for the next seven years.
6. Disappearing Documents in Ohio
Gina Brooks and her husband applied for their first mortgage modification with Wells Fargo's ASC Mortgage servicer when they were only a couple of months behind on their payments. They were denied the first time and chose to go through a Chapter 13 bankruptcy—which would allow them to keep their home and keep paying their mortgage. “I had lived in this house for 14 years,” she said. “I didn't want to lose my home.”
In July 2010, after the bankruptcy, she submitted another modification request and was again denied. The money she and her husband were paying on their mortgage alone was leaving them little to live on, and they finally decided to switch to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which would leave them without their home. In a last-ditch effort, she wrote to her mortgage company, and then called in when she didn't hear back.
“I was told at that time they had no record whatsoever of anything I had ever sent in since I started in 2009,” Brooks said. No record of her repeated denials, her requests, her bankruptcies. Nothing. No one was familiar with her case.
Brooks had already started packing her home when a friend suggested she contact her senator. Through an intervention by Sherrod Brown (D-OH)'s office, she was offered a full refinance on her home by Wells Fargo—but after two years of fighting with the lender, her refinance added $31,000 to her mortgage. Brooks said she's grateful to have her home, but frustrated to be paying interest on interest. “Why did it take me two years, two bankruptcies and all of this headache when they could've done it in one month?”
7. Possible Victory in Minneapolis
Monique White's home was the site of one of the first Occupy-related foreclosure defenses last November, when she refused to be bought off by Freddie Mac's “cash for keys” offer. That would've given her a small reimbursement for voluntarily giving up her home after it had been repossessed by U.S. Bank and sold to Freddie Mac—without her knowledge.
Neighborhoods Organizing for Change had already been working with White, but they reached out to Occupy and the group responded, sending occupiers to camp out on White's property to prevent eviction.
Now, thanks to tireless action by a team of lawyers, activists, and White herself—who traveled to U.S. Bank's shareholder meeting to personally ask the bank's CEO, Richard Davis, for help—she's got a tentative deal to modify her mortgage to allow her to stay in her home.
The Huffington Post reported:
It took US Bank a matter of days to come up with a principal reduction that allowed White to pay $686.36 a month to stay in her home. White, who works two part-time jobs and is in training for a full-time union position, said it was a little steep, but she could make it work.
Occupy Homes Minnesota activist Nick Espinosa told the Huffington Post, "It does show that when we shine a light on these cases and bring them to the public eye, that the bank is more than capable of negotiating -- even though they've said all along that that is not their responsibility. It's a huge victory, and it represents exactly the kind of deal that every homeowner in America should be getting from the banks."