Foreclosures, fraud & the big fight
Rallied neighborhoods, picketed banks, blocked Dumpsters, packed courtrooms
Published: February 20, 2013
Two events held last week appeared only tangentially connected — at first glance, anyway.
The first was a rally held by a coalition focused on helping homeowners fend off foreclosure and eviction. The other was a press conference on the fifth floor of the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, outside the offices of the city of Detroit’s Law Department.
In regard to the latter, a Freedom of Information Act request has been filed seeking to have the city turn over 10 years’ worth of records related to all contracts and agreements between the city and “banks or brokerage houses relating to the purchase of bonds, interest rate swaps, pension obligation certificates, hedge fund derivatives, termination or default agreements, or other forms of debt…”
The request was initially filed in early January by David Sole, a retired city of Detroit employee, but it is really part of a larger group effort aimed at finding out exactly how banks and bonding agencies have been putting the screws to Detroit through a series of complicated and convoluted financial machinations.
Although the city was supposed to have provided the requested material within no more than 15 working days, it has yet to be turned over. As a result, a lawsuit was launched last week in an attempt to force the city to provide the requested documents.
What connects the rally and the FOIA lawsuit is the claim that the big banks and Wall Street have wreaked havoc in Detroit, both in terms of forcing individuals from their homes — helping to devastate the city’s tax base — and by engineering complicated financial maneuvers that have helped saddle the city with a crippling debt burden.
Trying to draw attention to both issues is attorney Jerome “Jerry” Goldberg, a self-described radical who has been in the trenches of the home foreclosure battle since at least 2007.
He’s not alone, of course. A small group of activists and attorneys have been working to protect homeowners from foreclosure and eviction since forming the Moratorium Now! Coalition nearly six years ago.
From the outset, the coalition has been urging officials, ranging from the mayor of Detroit to the governor of Michigan to the president of the United States, to utilize a Depression-era law that authorizes them to declare a state of emergency and order a halt to home foreclosures.
At the rally, held Wednesday evening at metro Detroit’s AFL-CIO union headquarters, activists were still at it, passing out petitions calling upon President Barack Obama to “protect our neighbors from foreclosure and our communities from blight by requiring Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, mortgage investors operated by the federal government, to reduce principal on overvalued mortgages and halt the foreclosure of hard-pressed homeowners.”
As numerous victims of foreclosure pointed out at the rally, current federal policies are actually encouraging banks to foreclose. That’s because, instead of taking a loss, lenders are often recouping 100 percent of a mortgage’s value. Those who are taking the hits are the people losing their homes, and U.S. taxpayers, who, while making sure that the banks don’t suffer the consequences of bad loans, are being left holding homes worth only a faction of what they were once valued.
Among those speaking at the event held by the Detroit Eviction Defense coalition — which is made up of homeowners, neighborhood groups, community activists, local unions and faith-based organizations — was Bob Goss of Troy. After losing his auto company job in 2008, Goss thought he would be able to keep his home when he discovered the federal Home Affordable Modification Program, or HAMP.
Instead, what he got was a runaround from the bank he was dealing with. After submitting the required paperwork via certified mail, he was repeatedly told that first one piece of information and then another was missing, Goss said.
“They said they lost page four, then they lost page six, then they lost part of my tax information,” he told the gathering of about 120 people. “They lost this, and then they lost that.”
Finally, he came to realize that it was “really a game being played here.”
He didn’t realize just how sinister the game was until, thinking that he had successfully modified his mortgage agreement, and making 22 monthly payments, his home was still foreclosed on and sold at a sheriff’s sale last year.
He has remained in his home while fighting the foreclosure in court.
“The system,” he said, “bulldozes over everybody.”
He’s right in that the devastation has been widespread. Organizers billed last week’s rally as an attempt to help homeowners battered by “Hurricane Fannie,” and described what’s happened in southeast Michigan as a “hurricane without water,” leaving people homeless and local governments devastated by the blight and decimated property tax revenues foreclosures have caused.
There was, however, another aspect of this story that the members of Detroit Eviction Defense wanted to spread.
It is this: Applying public pressure works.
As noted in the flier promoting Wednesday’s event: “We support alternative legal strategies and nonprofit finance to keep people in their homes. We have rallied neighborhoods, picketed banks, blocked Dumpsters, packed courtrooms, and marched on government offices to stop foreclosures and evictions.”
In the years that the folks from Moratorium Now! and others have been fighting to keep people in their homes, what they’ve learned is that the courts cannot be depended on to protect the rights of homeowners. Lenders have teams of well-paid attorneys skilled at convincing courts to move people out of their homes.
Attorney Joe McGuire — who first became involved in this issue as part of the Occupy movement — pointed out that what works is taking this fight to the streets.
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