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.
Here are some of the most common complaints about mortgage servicers we hear from homeowners:
Eligible homeowners denied for Hamp modifications because of sloppy handling of documents by the servicer.
Servicers pushing homeowners into less than affordable “in house” modifications when they clearly qualify for the more affordable government Hamp program.
Foreclosing while in review for a modification.
Misapplying trial modification payments or processing incorrectly so the homeowner is disqualified for a Hamp modification.
Misapplying mortgage payments so the homeowner is deemed in default.
Processing escrow accounts incorrectly.
Declaring homes vacant (when they are in fact occupied by the homeowner) which disqualifies them for HAMP.
Granting 3 month trial modification, but the bank insists that the homeowner continue to make the trial payments for months or years, leading them to believe they will receive permanent loan modification documents in the mail, but they never arrive.
Servicers abrubtly refuse payments or send payments back to the homeowner when they have been participating in an extended trial modification plan, then informing them they are denied for modification.
Requesting loan modification and financial documents repeatedly and telling the homeowner they were never received.
Improperly calculating the homeowner’s income to disqualify them for a loan modification.
Discriminating against minorities and single women.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is taking mortgage complaints. If you are having issues with your mortgage servicer we encourage you to file a complaint at www.consumerfinance.gov. It is our hope that the CFPB will see the patterns of abuse as more complaints are submitted by homeowners.
We’re tired of watching banks destroy homeowners lives. It’s bad enough to be a homeowner who may have lost a job or is struggling with a health issue. We’ve all seen how banks take advantage of homeowners when they are the most vulnerable. We’ve created a petition and we’re aiming it at the top!
Collectively we can band together, stop the madness and force banks to do what’s right for homeowners. Help spread the word by sharing this petition with friends and family.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said: Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter. It’s time for homeowners to stop being silent and stand up for their rights.
My experience at HAMP’s Education session for Real Estate Professionals was like being in a parallel universe. What my mind knew and what I was hearing and seeing were complete opposites. I had to mask my expressions all day. I was fearful my face would give me away. I was terrified I would be “found out”. I really play for the other team, the team that wants people to STAY in their homes. I was truly David in Goliath’s backyard. Even with my own foreclosure nightmare, I still am naïve to the far reaches of greed and fraud. Looking into the faces of the “Big 5” bank representatives, I saw smugness, condensation, annoyance, and the ever present blame everyone else attitude.
The session was about HAFA, Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives, i.e. Short Sales and Deed in Lieu. Or as D.S. from Wells Fargo said, “Graceful Exits”. “ A way for people to keep their dignity.” Wow talking about families with such compassion. The Big 5 showed no understanding they were talking about their neighbors, their friends, their children’s classmates. Just unfeeling people sitting on a stage, while the minions sat below.
This event had primarily real estate professionals attend. Those poor brave souls, who had no idea that by the end of the session, they would be belittled and blamed for short sales that fail. Real Estate agents need to do their “due diligence” in order to get the sale closed. Another carrot dangling…My opinion of short sale agents shifted a bit, from the bottom feeders, to people being victimized by the banks. The banks create impossible hurdles for homeowners and everyone involved in real estate. The truly are the puppet masters of our country.
The biggest threat in America today is the BIG BANKS and WALL STREET. Be afraid.
HopeNow – Home Preservation event for homeowners.
The event continued in the afternoon, this time it was a huge production to show America that the banks, HUD and the Government really do care. Ha Ha. Once I realized that HopeNow is funded by the banks, I felt like I was in the twilight zone. Hundreds of people involved in this event, hopeful homeowners, unsuspecting housing counselors, and volunteers who believed this event was going to help people. It was nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
I entered the event, once again a sheep in wolf’s clothing. I was granted access to sit with the HUD approved counselors. I entered with apprehension, did I look like them? Would anyone recognize my name from change.org or the media? Would HSITrust be recognized? Nope. I was in. Talking with the counselors was unbelievable. Some were naïve and hopeful. Some like R.V. from a local HUD approved counseling agency were jaded and pessimistic. She said the banks like people to meet with housing counselors first, to make it easier for the banks. So people can start to accept the reality, that in the end they will lose their home.
I also met another woman, from another HUD approved agency who is a Realtor, and uses being a housing counselor to support her short sales. She has learned well; use the system for your own benefit. Maybe she could get a job at a bank, in the liquidation department.
I saw no one being helped. For example, woman from “keep your home California” table, who had 2 people go sit to apply and walked them to another table, saying they “probably” didn’t qualify. Truth is she was busy working on her laptop. I think housing counselors should be foreclosure survivors, they might have more willingness to work for their clients.
Most of the people I spoke with on their way out of the event, said they got no help. Gee, I wonder why? Others left with contact info for their “single point of contact” at the bank and were optimistic and disillusioned. I left feeling like a very small David, battling a HUGE Goliath. I also left with resolve to keep helping people like me, like others at HSITrust, victims of the foreclosure scam and Wall Street’s greed.
Moveon.org’s nationwide Save Our Homes rally touched Lincoln March 15. From left, Rachel Kendall, Raeleen Lester (Kendall’s mother), Marlene Koons, Linda Kuruhara and Howard Koons gathered in front of Lincoln’s Wells Fargo as part of moveon.org’s nationwide Save Our Homes Rally. The rally was organized by Lincoln resident Kendall, who said she “almost lost” her Lincoln Crossing home in December. Kendall owed $7,000 on her home after she went on disability and was not paid for four months, according to Kendall. She said Wells Fargo bank put her home up for sale in December. After working with HSI Trust Home Savers, Kendall said, she “was able to negotiate with Wells Fargo and keep” her home. The March 15 protest coincided with a meeting between President Barack Obama and the Senate’s finance committee “to discuss people staying in their homes,” Kendall said.
Excerpt from Huffington Post:
The greatest moral hazard now confronting the nation is what appears to be increasingly brazen criminal activity by financial industry executives. With each decision not to prosecute, Wall Street executives justifiably conclude that they are immune to the rules. As a result, it appears that Wall Street criminal activity is increasing in frequency and severity, as opposed to the reverse. The activities surrounding the collapse of MF Global are one example.
So what can be done about it? We can change the behavior in the financial service industry for a full generation in just seven days. This plan may seem to be tongue and cheek, but it harkens back to a similar action in the era of the Great Depression. In the final months of Herbert Hoover’s presidency, the Senate Banking Committee began an investigation into the causes of the Great Crash of 1929, and a young prosecutor named Ferdinand Pecora was appointed as Chief Counsel. Subsequently, the Roosevelt administration conveyed to Pecora that “the prosecution of an outstanding violator of the banking law would be the most salutary action that could be taken at this time. The feeling is that if the people become convinced that the big violators are to be punished, it will be helpful in restoring confidence.” Ultimately, this investigation, which came to be known as the Pecora Commission, led to the indictment of one of America’s most prominent financiers; demonstrated widespread self-dealing in the financial sector; and, as noted by historian Alan Brinkley, generated “broad popular support” for Roosevelt’s reform agenda, including the creation of the SEC and the Glass-Steagall Act.
My seven day plan is based on a simple premise: When criminal laws are egregiously violated, the guilty parties should face appropriate punishment. Here’s the plan:
Day One: Read the HUD Inspector General’s reports and the public records of past mortgage foreclosure cases from across the nation.
Day Two: Meet with the team at the Office of the Inspector General at HUD that prepared the audits. Obtain the names of all the bank officials, lawyers, and notaries whose behavior, as cited in the audit reports or otherwise known to the investigators, represent clear and unquestionable criminal violations. Add to this list other individuals who have similarly demonstrated or testified to behavior unquestionably constituting criminal acts, as indicated by the public records of the mortgage foreclosure cases reviewed in day one.
Day Three: Indict all of the individuals on the list compiled on day two.
Day Four: Indict banks and financial institutions on criminal charges where criminal behavior by employees (as demonstrated by day three indictments) appears to be endemic. The Justice Department guidelines for prosecuting firms include: (1) the pervasiveness of such activity, (2) the compliance procedures in place, (3) attempts by the corporation to end bad behavior, and (4) cooperation with federal investigators. In 2008, the Justice Department adopted a policy of accepting “deferred prosecutions,” involving agreements to change corporate behavior without damaging innocent third parties through prosecution.
Corporations receive the benefits of “legal persons,” as demonstrated by Citizens United. But they must also bear the responsibilities of these privileges. A reading of the HUD reports, and other public records, suggests several banks should clearly be prosecuted.
Day 5: Discuss plea bargains with indicted lower-level officials in return for cooperating in investigations of higher-level officials.
Day 6: Consider plea bargains with indicted banks, which require the removal of all remaining officers and directors who were serving when egregious criminal activity occurred, as well as senior officials who were in a position to exercise appropriate supervisory responsibility but chose to look the other way.
Day 7: Indict any senior Wall Street officials implicated by new cooperative testimony resulting from activities on day five. Adopt and announce a policy that future criminal violations will be prosecuted in a similar fashion.
What is particularly disturbing is that a look at the evidence already in the public domain (much less what investigators already know) shows that none of the actions discussed above are entirely absurd. The purpose of prosecution is not simply punishment. It acts to deter further illegal activity and to restore public confidence in our system of governance. The nation desperately needs both of these benefits today.
Moreover, these ongoing, almost certainly criminal activities are ultimately dangerous threats to our economy, the success of capitalism, and our democracy. In his recent New York Times column on the collapse of MF Global, Joe Nocera noted that “customers need to be able to trust” the laws protecting their money. “Otherwise, the markets can’t function.”
Today, as in the era of FDR, we must send a message to the financial community that illegal behavior will not be tolerated. By prosecuting blatant felonies now, we will deter future misbehavior and begin the process of recreating a fair society where equal justice prevails.