Home owners over fifty face surge in foreclosures
At 92, Robert Moses should simply be celebrating his longevity; instead, he has become one of the oldest foreclosure fighters in the Bay Area.
With the mortgage on his Visitacion Valley home paid off in 2002 and a small pension, the World War II Navy veteran and his wife of 50 years were set for their later years.
Then in 2006, Moses had to have extensive work done to bring his home up to code. Despite his low income, Moses was approved for a big subprime adjustable loan.
Last year the initial loan period ended and Moses’ nightmare began.
“The payments were $1,800 and I could afford that,” Moses said. “Then in December they doubled. I couldn’t pay that so I sent in a check for $2,300. The company said that they could not accept partial payments.”
With his wife in a nursing home, Moses is now in danger of losing his home. He carries a file bulging with proof of his three loan modification applications and bank letters telling him that nothing can be done until he applies yet again. Late penalties have added an additional $36,000 to the principal.
“When they told him [the loan] was adjustable and could go up or down, I think they really sold him on the down part,” said Nealie Yarbrough, Moses’ niece.
According to a July study by the American Association of Retired Persons, Moses is part of the fastest growing sector of owners facing foreclosure: people over 50. The report, “Nightmare on Main Street: Older Americans and the Mortgage Market Crisis,” concluded that since December 2011, 3.5 million people aged 50+ are underwater—meaning their home is worth less than their loan. Nearly 600,000 are in foreclosure, and another 625,000 have delinquent loans. From 2007 to 2011, more than 1.5 million older Americans lost their homes.
The report also found that African Americans and Latinos over 50 face the highest foreclosure rates, at 3.5 percent and 3.9 percent respectively; this is compared to only 1.9 for older whites. And like Moses, many were longtime homeowners who borrowed against their home equity to pay for medical expenses, home repair or other critical needs.
Banks and Their Role
Between 2004 and 2007 big bank mortgage providers aggressively enticed clients to get large adjustable mortgages with easy initial terms by convincing them that they could refinance to a lower rate.
However, many homeowners later found that they were ineligible for refinancing and the largest number of loan defaults in history occurred, creating the 2008 subprime mortgage collapse.
Grace Martinez, a local organizer with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), says that homeowners were bombarded with phone calls and mailings telling them they were sitting on a gold mine.
“We have definitely seen a trend that shows these loans are predatory and racist,” Martinez said.
Now loan modification “experts” have become another pitfall for homeowners. Based on complaints to their national Loan Modification Scam Database, The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law found that seniors were the most vulnerable, accounting for 45 percent of the $40 million paid to scammers.
Martinez gives simple and direct advice: “We always, 100 percent of the time, send people to a HUD [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] certified counselor. Never, ever, ever, ever pay anyone for loan modification services.”
According to Martinez there have been 12,000 foreclosures in San Francisco since 2008, and she estimates that we’re only one-third of the way into the crisis.
“The best chance they have to get their homes back is organize, the best combination is a HUD counselor and activism,” Martinez said. “If we wait for the banks it’s never going to happen. It’s going to take a fight by people, a lot of people, to change the polices.”
Merrie Jo and Edzel Musni, a Noe Valley couple in their late 60s, had been fighting Bank of America for four years when they met Occupy Noe activists who, like ACCE, are part of a grassroots movement to reach out to beleaguered homeowners and point them toward resources, such as free assistance from a HUD-approved housing counselor.
The Musni’s modification application had gone unanswered and they were repeatedly told that their paperwork was lost.
Occupy Noe collected 300 signatures on a petition demanding a resolution from the bank.
“Within two weeks the couple got their loan modification in the mail with the interest reduced from 6.5 to 3.6 percent,” said Susan McDonough, co-founder of Occupy Noe.
And like Moses, the Musnis and other homeowners are becoming foreclosure activists by sharing their stories, participating in press conferences and helping others.
“The banks are being unfair with the people,” Moses said. “The president gave them all that money so they could help us little people and they’re not helping us.”
Mission Economic Development Association (HUD Approved Counseling in Spanish)
For a listing of HUD-approved housing counselors
Home Defenders League
A national movement of underwater homeowners and their allies
Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment
Foreclosure Fighter Campaign –Grace Martinez (San Francisco)
Prevent Loan Scams, a project of The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law
Consumer financial Protection Bureau- Office of Older Americans
Foreclosure in California: A Crisis of Compliance