The sad truth is that even the programs that have been created to improve the situation are not working. In the first half of 2012, 800,000 homes that should have circumvented foreclosure according to the U.S.’s foreclosure prevention program were foreclosed on anyway. Furthermore, the government allocated $46 billion to at-risk homeowners in the 2009 Troubled Asset Relief Program, and three years later 90% of that money has gone unspent, an inexplicable statistic considering that millions continue to lose their homes.
But forget the statistics. What the banks tend to overlook is that each home holds a family, which in turn holds a story. And so many of these families’ foreclosure stories are absolutely heartbreaking:
1. Shortly after having been wrongfully evicted from his foreclosed home, Harry Engel suffered a fatal heart attack from the stress. In 2009, JPMorgan encouraged him to refinance his mortgage loan, suggesting that his family intentionally miss a payment to qualify for assistance from the government. When Engel followed the advice, the bank used his late payment as an excuse to proceed with foreclosing on his property.
2. Korean War veteran Sherman McCray missed a payment of $338.91 to his home owners association once while dealing with medical bills related to a heart attack and the removal of his gallbladder. Unbeknownst to the 81 year old, late fees and interest increased his debt to over $4,000 in just a couple of years. Despite being totally paid up on his mortgage and taxes, this petty debt has subject to the foreclosure process, which would leave the man and his sole companion, a Labrador retriever, with nowhere to go.
3. California resident Ana Casas Wilson is confined to a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy. During an expensive hospital stay, Wilson admits she fell behind on her mortgage payments. Though she is now able to make regular payments, Wells Fargo was not amenable to modifying anything and proceeded with foreclosure. When Wilson showed up to the home of a Wells Fargo CFO to hand deliver a mortgage payment, she was arrested.
4. Alvin and Pat Tjosaas returned home recently to find that all of their belongings had been stolen. The police solved the crime quickly: Wells Fargo had foreclosed on the property. However, the Tjosaas family had no mortgage on the house (the family had built the home themselves) and the bank had ransacked the wrong home altogether. Though Wells Fargo says it is sorry for the mistake, it is unable to give back any of the possessions or memories they stole because they were disposed of so quickly.
5. After Wells Fargo informed Norman Rousseau that he missed a mortgage payment which he did actually pay (and had a receipt to prove it), the bank’s clerical error escalated into an increasingly ridiculous fiasco that resulted in the foreclosure of his home. Following three years of frustration over a battle with the bank that should have never happened, sensing there was no end in sight, Rousseau took his own life.
6. Paraplegic Jerome Jackson faces foreclosure from his home, which was designed specifically to accommodate his wheelchair. In 2004, Jackson had his mortgage paperwork filled out by an organization, which classified him as mentally disabled (which is not true) and having an income of $4,000 per month, when he actually makes only $600 in Social Security. Once the factual errors were discovered, Jackson lost his mortgage subsidy and will likely lose his house.
7. When Bank of America submitted what was likely fraudulent paperwork to foreclose on her home, Blanca Cardenas, mother of two, attempted to protect her property. The person who bought Cardenas’s foreclosed home attempted to stop a lengthy legal battle by performing a citizen’s arrest on Cardenas. Since Cardenas is undocumented, she was promptly deported to Mexico by the Los Angeles Police Department with nothing but the clothes on her back. The illegal foreclosure cost Cardenas not only her home, but her family.
8. In 2008, the Pryons bought a house in Houston with a $700-per-month mortgage. Although they never missed a single bill, unbeknownst to the Pryons and at no fault of their own, the title of the house was never properly transferred. Thanks to this technicality, Wells Fargo still owned the property and decided to foreclose on the family with a young child.
9. How do two families face foreclosure on just one house? After one family missed a payment, its home was foreclosed on and sold for cheap at an online auction. There, a second family purchased the house for just $16,000, not realizing that this put them on the hook for the existing $200,000 mortgage. Now both families face massive debt for a home that neither may be able to live in.
10. Battling stage 4 cancer and four years of chemotherapy, Cindi Davis has enormous medical expenses. Her prescription medication alone costs $1,100 each month, making her nearly $900 a month mortgage payments impossible. Though she has repeatedly tried to negotiate a lower rate with Wells Fargo, no agreement has been reached, leaving Davis vulnerable to foreclosure.
What these stories demonstrate is that the banks are making a lot of “mistakes” – mistakes that ruin people’s lives – and are not being held accountable for them. On the other hand, if a homeowner makes a slight mistake like missing a payment (or even accidentally leaving 80 cents off a mortgage payment), then the bank is likely to take opportunity to go ahead and foreclose on him or her.
The Occupy Wall Street movement has made fighting foreclosures one of its top actions. For example, Occupy LA has helped reverse a foreclosure on a woman and her disabled daughter and is currently actively contesting an impending foreclosure on the Hernandez family.
It should not take one error to cost a family its home. Foreclosures should be the exception, not the rule, as the banks seem to be practicing. It takes a whole lot of nerve for banks to play a leading role in crashing the economy and then steal vulnerable families’ last remaining possessions just because they were not fortunate enough to receive bailout money to get them out of a mess that their debt-collectors created.