San Francisco – Robert Moses is 92, an African American and a World War II Navy veteran.
Don Baird is a couple of weeks shy of his 90th birthday, is scheduled for heart surgery next week, and is also a World War II veteran.
Aside from being former servicemen, both men also share one other thing: they are about to lose the homes they owned, each for more than four decades, to foreclosure.
“We were granted loans we should not have been given because we were not financially capable,” asserted Baird’s wife, Tina, 81, a former teacher.
Chase has set the foreclosure date on their ranch-style home in Redwood City, Calif., for September 24.
Homeward Residential, the current loan servicer for Deutsche Bank, has temporarily suspended the foreclosure on Moses’s two-story town house.
Neither institution returned calls seeking comment for this story.
Yesterday, Sept. 17, members of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), activists from Occupy Noe and Occupy Bernal and about 40 other activists gathered outside the War Memorial Veterans Building to protest bank foreclosures on veterans and seniors.
“Seniors have been set upon by these banks in a very, very vicious manner,” asserted Archbishop Franzo King of the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church, who said he was himself a senior and lost his home to foreclosure recently. “We have to shake off that cloak of shame and put on our war clothes and fight these gangsters.”
Redlined black and Hispanics
King pointed out that there was a time when banks “redlined” blacks and Hispanics and routinely rejected their loan applications. Then, during the housing boom of the mid-2000s, mortgage brokers steered minority borrowers into expensive sub-prime mortgages with financial institutions that often charged them higher fees and rates than their white counterparts who posed the same credit risk.
“These brokers are just like Satan,” King said.
According to a recent AARP study titled, “Nightmare on Main Street: Older Americans and the Mortgage Market Crisis,” while the mortgage crisis has hit every age group, Americans who are 75-plus have been disproportionately hurt, especially those in the African-American and Hispanic communities.
Moses said he refinanced his nearly paid-off loan with Deutsche in 2006 so he could bring his home up to city code. He had purchased the home in 1972 for $79,000. With the $520,000 new adjustable rate mortgage loan he took out, he was able to give the house a complete makeover, he said.
He said Deutsche set a 7.75 percent rate on the loan and remembers the bank telling him that the rate would adjust to less in a few years. At the time, Moses figured that he could comfortably make the $1,700 monthly payments with his monthly income of a little over $3,000, which includes his veteran’s pension of $1,300, his union pension of $450, and his Social Security of about $1,300.
Last December, he was shocked to see that his interest rate had gone up to 12.95 percent, which translated to payments of $3,400 a month.
“They lulled him into a false sense of security and then lowered the boom on him,” said his niece, Nealie Yarbrough who, along with her 13-year-old daughter, is living with Moses.
Moses let the loan provider know that he couldn’t afford the new rate and asked if he could modify the loan. (A loan modification is an adjustment to the terms of the existing loan, often for a short period of time to allow the borrower to get back on his financial feet.) In the meantime, to avoid being delinquent, Moses said he sent Homeward Residential a check for $2,300, saying that was all he could afford.
Moses said Homeward told him they couldn’t accept a “partial payment.”
“But they didn’t return the money I sent them,” Moses said, adding that since then, he has not paid his mortgage, while trying unsuccessfully to modify his loan “three or four times.”
Don’t make enough for loan modification
The cost of applying for a loan modification is about $1,000 per application, pointed out Benjamin Reed Jr., who was speaking at yesterday’s protest on behalf of his father, a Tuskegee Air Force veteran, who retired from the military in the 1970s.
Reed said his parents, both in their 80s, have so far spent $3,000 on loan modification applications with Wells Fargo, but have not succeeded in their efforts. The Reeds have been living in their Twin Peaks home for 27 years. The home is currently facing foreclosure.
“This fight must have taken 10 years off their lives,” Reed said.
The Bairds are also weary of fighting to get their loan modified with Chase. They said that since 1989, they refinanced multiple times to pay off their medical bills and credit card bills, and the last time in 1999 to help their daughter and her family out.
The Bairds current combined income is around $3,550 a month. The amount they owe Chase is approximately $750,000, and at the current interest rate the bank is charging them, their monthly mortgage payment is about $2,500.
“Donald and Tina are beating themselves [up] about having taken out all those loans,” observed Grace Martinez, an organizer with ACCE.
Between 2008 and 2011, more than one million homes were lost to foreclosure, with an additional 700,000 currently in the foreclosure pipeline. Seven of the nation’s 10 hardest hit cities by foreclosure rate last year were in California. Martinez said that 84 percent of the foreclosures that happened in San Francisco between 2009 and 2011 were “illegal.”
Like the Bairds and Moses did, many older people, most of them on a fixed income, tapped their home equity before the recession struck for fixing their homes or paying their medical bills, the AARP study points out.
“The banks’ pitch line to seniors is: ‘You are sitting on a pile of equity; why can’t you take out money to clear your debts,'” noted Martinez.
This past July, California passed the Homeowners Bill of Rights to protect homeowners and borrowers during the mortgage and foreclosure process by prohibiting unfair bank practices. The bill goes into effect next January.
Over the last three years, the Bairds have tried unsuccessfully four times to get their loan modified, but Chase has told them each time it couldn’t because they make too little money.
Tina Baird asserted that as bad as the situation she and her husband are in, what Moses is facing is even worse.
“What the bank has done to him is outrageous,” she said, noting that perhaps their “white skin” has helped them in some way.
Moses is hoping that Homeward Residential will give him a break and let him pay the 7.75 percent he was originally charged, else his 82-year-old wife, Stella, who is currently in a rehab facility in the city recovering from leg surgery, won’t have a home to come back to when she is discharged.
“They keep telling me my income is too low to have my loan modified,” Moses said. “What do they want me to do – take up a part-time job?