We will be featured on ABC News Nightline Wednesday, July 4, 2012 at 11:30 pm EST. Check local listings for air times in your area.
Eleven months after Brandie Barbiere stopped paying the mortgage on her Milliken, Colo., home, her husband found out when he returned from work to see their possessions piled on the front lawn. As a sheriff’s deputy supervised the Oct. 5, 2011, eviction, he confronted his wife and wrestled with his anger. A few minutes later he spotted photographer John Moore. “Who the hell are you?” the husband exclaimed.
“I said I was very sorry this was happening and that I was taking some pictures to show what people all around the country were going through,” Moore recalled. “And he let me stay.”
Moore is one of a small cadre of photographers who have set out to record the life-altering event of a foreclosure, which sometimes is climaxed by an eviction lasting at most two hours. Moore’s pictures and those of 10 other photographers (see slideshow below) form a new exhibit, “Foreclosed: Documents from the American Housing Crisis,” at the Alice Austen House on New York City’s Staten Island, which held its opening reception earlier this month.
Since 2009, Moore has photographed hundreds of evictions in Colorado. “Everybody had a different story,” he said. “Some people had lost their jobs and could no longer make their mortgage payments.”
Barbiere’s foreclosure was triggered by the shrinking of her child care business. Other homeowners had assumed balloon mortgages whose rates readjusted to levels they could not afford. And then there’s Tracy Munch, whom Moore photographed on Feb. 2, 2009, in Colorado’s Adams County. Although she paid her rent faithfully, Moore said, her family was evicted because her landlord had stopped paying the mortgage.
Moore immersed himself in the world of foreclosures after a three-year posting for Getty Images in Islamabad. He returned to a United States besieged by recession and wanted to chronicle one of the causes: the bursting of the real estate bubble. “The struggle was trying to get access to the actual moment when people were being evicted from their homes,” he said.
In a quiet office in downtown Charlotte, N.C., dozens of Wells Fargo’s foreclosure foot soldiers sit in cubicles cranking out documents the bank relies on to seize its share of the thousands of homes lost to foreclosure every week.
They stare at computer screens and prepare sworn affidavits that are used by lenders in courts across the country to seize homes. Paid $30,700 to start, these legal process specialists, the title that goes with the job, swear an oath under penalty of perjury that they’re corporate vice presidents. They’re peppered with e-mails from managers to meet daily quotas of at least 10 or 11 files day.
If they fall short, they face a verbal warning. Then written. Two written warnings could cost them the paycheck that supports a family. As more than one source for this story told msnbc.com, “I can’t afford to lose this job.”
Pressured to meet daily production quotas, they are likely making mistakes that inadvertently could toss a family out of its home and onto the street, according to these workers.
State and federal prosecutors, in a recent settlement with five banks that included Wells Fargo, agreed. The joint state and federal settlement spelled out how the document procedures at the five banks resulted in “loss of homes due to improper, unlawful or undocumented foreclosures,” according to the complaint.
“These are mistakes that could cost someone their home,” a Wells Fargo document preparer told msnbc.com.
The following story is about HSITrust client, Rebecca McClellan’s quest to have her mortgage modified by Bank of America. I’m sure her story will resonate with many of our readers.
My name is Rebecca McClellan. Like many others, I am a struggling homeowner. In 2008, the market began to crash and my husband was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma cancer. The doctors at Stanford were not optimistic about his survival chances. He was unable to continue working. I struggled on, overwhelmed by the prospect of losing my life partner and trying to tend to his mounting needs. He needed to be taken weekly for 6 hour chemo-therapy sessions and doctor appointments at Stanford; each time a 3 hour round trip drive. We went from a two income family to me being our sole support, barely making our mortgage payments while trying to be a rock of support for his situation.
The government announced the first of several modification programs that applied to people like us, who needed help, an adjustment of our interest rate, maybe even a lowering of our principal down to the level that the house would be worth to the bank if they sold it. I began calling Bank of America to talk about a modification and was, on virtually every call, routed back to the front desk of the “Have a Heart” desk where they claimed they were taking and processing loan modification requests. Every time that I called, I had to re-explain my story. The people who answered the phone didn’t have any idea what they were talking about, much less what they were doing. I sent hardship letters and I sent new budgets to them every several weeks, each time at their request, and each time that I called up the front desk, again, to find out my status from the person at the front desk who had no idea what was going on, I was, usually after 30 minutes on the phone waiting, told that they couldn’t find my paperwork and I should resubmit it. I was told again to submit an application and to write a “hardship” letter about my husband’s condition. I did so immediately.
I talked to Sumat Jain in Home Retention, who told me to call back in October. In October I talked to Greg Knox. Then I talked to Joyce in home Retention who would not give me her last name. Then I talked to Carol on the “Heart Team” who couldn’t find our package. Then she found them, said it was being processed and I should call back at the end of November. In December Cindi Bustamante from the “Heart Team” called to ask why I hadn’t signed the loan mod papers and then began an investigation into why I hadn’t received the papers. Did these phantom papers even exist? Then I talked to Donna, Karen, Cindi, again, and was told I would be contacted by Monique, a supervisor. Monique never called me.
The next day I talked to Tamara who transferred me back to the “Hope Team”. Natasha in the “Hope Team” told me that my loan mod was, actually, still in review. Then I talked to Dave and John, Dave’s supervisor. My next call put me in India and they transferred my call to Gabriel in customer Service and then he transferred me to Josh, another supervisor. Josh said he was going to escalate the mod request and I got transferred to India, again and then to Jessica. Then I talked to Patrick who announced that they had closed my file and returned it to “normal” status. Then I talked to Nikee Woods, a negotiator. Then I talked to Hugh and then Lydia. Then I talked to Ansenija, another supervisor, who was going to call me back but didn’t because she was “too busy doing other things” she told me later. Then I talked to Shannon and Tierra and then Michael who, out of the clear blue, announced that I had a pending modification on my second, even though I had been told we were only working on my first and we would work on my second after the first was resolved. Then I talked to Adrian Woods, another negotiator, who announced that my loan app had been cancelled. Then Margaret from Making Home Affordable called up and put me through to Mykie Vyas.
These exchanges went on for two years with virtually no resolution of our situation. We finally ran out of money and stopped making our mortgage payments. Within one month of not making the first payment, Bank of America started calling us instead of us trying to get them to even talk to us. I got calls from Tamika, Nathan, Adrian, Suzanne in India, Maria, Ebony, David and Adam, an assistant supervisor who told me that my loan modification app had been cancelled, and Aron from India. Then I got calls from Shannon, Tierra, and Michael. Then Adrian Vargas called back to say that I would deal only with him and that they couldn’t find our file and that I should resubmit everything. Then I talked to a supervisor in India, Stephen and then I talked to Adrian Vargas’ supervisor.
Next, I received a letter from Bank of America, no name, saying that our mod had been turned down because our ratios were too high. I knew, from many conversations with independent mortgage brokers, that our ratios were not too high. Adrian Vargas of Bank of America told me to appeal, because he agreed with me.
Then I talked to Danny and Vanessa who told me to talk to Gwen Hall, the underwriter. Then I talked to Arlene who said there was nothing new to discuss and then I talked to Robert who acknowledged that my ratios were below the 31% ratio and that I did, indeed, qualify. Then I talked to Chris who said he was starting the whole process over. At this point I was assigned to Gwen Hall as my permanent Loan Representative in the process. I also got a letter warning me that I was delinquent and that they would start foreclosure proceedings.
Even though Adrian Vargas had assured me that nothing would happen while they were working on this, Gwen said they were going to start foreclosure proceedings but she assured me that they would not publish a sale date while the negotiations were going on. Within a month I was given a new “permanent” rep, Kyete Meyers. Then on Christmas Eve we came home to find notices tacked on our front door announcing a sale date for 2 weeks later. I tried to call Kyete but her phone didn’t work so I called her manager, Joseph Smith and he never returned my call. Then Kyete Meyers started asking for all my documents, again. Five days before the sale date they postponed the sale for one month. Since then, they have done it once more, again asking for the same documents they had in their possession since mid 2008.
It is now March, 2012. My husband is in remission from cancer but his long term survival prognosis is still an open question. That aside, chemo significantly damaged his heart and he is on a variety of heart medicines for the rest of his life and unable to work. I continue to work 12 hour days. I am still employed in a management position by the same Fortune 500 Company and I/we meet all of the criteria set forth in all the Federal government guidelines for a modification.
These guidelines, designed to put the real estate industry back on its feet, to stem the glut of foreclosed houses depressing the values of all the rest of the houses, and to give millions of us a renewed, ongoing stake in the American dream. The banks have signed agreements with the Federal government to support the unraveling of housing market crisis. But banks want to wash their hands of this part of their commitment. They prefer, instead, to leverage their capital, the money they are borrowing from the Federal government at 0%, in order to loan the money back to the Federal government at 3.5%, buying T-Bills.
My husband and I are, again, facing a Trustees Sale on our house on March 14, 2012. The Trustee, again, is ReconTrust, a company that is required by law to have a fiduciary responsibility to both Bank of America and to us; a company that is a wholly owned part of Bank of America.
I think it is important to note that I agree with Bank of America on one thing; that there are rules and that we need to play by those rules.
My problem with the Bank of America is its policy that only rules to acknowledge are those that put the homeowner in jeopardy. Even if I don’t like some of the rules, obviously, I am trying to play by all of them, all the same. The banks, clearly, don’t like other rules. Bank of America does not believe that they need, also, to play by all the rules. Rules about processing loan modification applications, rules about mortgage documentation, rules about foreclosure and due process and rules about fiduciary responsibility, notification and integrity are all rules that Bank of America has chosen to ignore. The banks do not want to be inconvenienced by these rules.
No one can tell me that having 40 or more people in 4 different programs, with 3 different “permanent” loan process representatives in 5 different states, in 2 different countries over a period of 3 years, over one mortgage, with an unpublished set of rules and arbitrary decisions with no accountability isn’t designed, with intent, to deter anyone from asking for fair or, at a minimum, due process. To call these programs “Have a Heart”, “Hope Team” “Making Homes Affordable” or even “Home Retention” is a slap in our collective face that crosses the line from the absurd to the Kafkaesque.
Make banks play by the same rules that they are reasonably demanding of us.
While we all knew the problems in our housing markets were severe — just how severe had never been thoroughly quantified until my office in San Francisco released the results last week of an independent audit of nearly 400 foreclosures over the past three years.
The audit findings show that irregularities are not just frequent — they are pervasive.
Like just about everyone else involved in this issue, I knew there were widespread problems. But the independent audit commissioned by my office showed fully 84 percent of the foreclosure files contained at least one clear legal violation and more than 66 percent of the files contained multiple violations. Nearly 60 percent of documents were backdated in some fashion, which is significant in an environment in which documents are filed under penalty of perjury. As far as we know, this is the first comprehensive audit of foreclosure files.
Why does this matter so much? First of all, the widespread fraud in mortgage lending and documentation that led to the epidemic in foreclosures was abetted by lax legal and regulatory standards that failed to spot, stop and prevent abuse.
Here in California these lax standards are particularly damaging because lenders (and the subsequent mortgage holders who frequently acquire loans) do not need to seek a court order to force a foreclosure. With little direct court oversight, we must rely on the administrative procedures and state regulations to protect owners from fraud.
This matters because families facing foreclosures are entitled to know exactly who holds their loan and to see for certain that the foreclosure is justified. In one case, our audit showed a foreclosure initiated by a party that had no title to the property — and in a number of other cases, we found two competing claims to the title.
This new data matters to all of us because the wave of foreclosures that broke over California affected every single Californian, not just those losing their homes. The massive loss of housing value meant we lost billions in tax revenues needed to fund our schools, protect our communities and invest in our future. And the administrative and recovery costs alone are staggering — with some estimates showing that each foreclosure costs local cities up to $20,000 for each home.
And finally it matters because transparency matters. The state constitution created assessor-recorder offices like mine in every county because economic security and basic justice were advanced by creating clear and transparent property records.
Wells Fargo is blatantly discriminating against our Hispanic client. They clearly qualify for a HAMP loan modification, but Wells Fargo is refusing to modify the loan and postpone the auction that is scheduled for Thursday, February 23, 2012. We are very disappointed with the treatment our clients are experiencing. This loan is predatory and discriminatory. We will update with more information and the complete story tomorrow.
Update: Wells Fargo postponed this auction. The new date is March 26, 2012. Our hope is that Wells Fargo will follow the guidelines and modify this mortgage.