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ACORN to lenders: “Prey no more!”

Avery Salkey is about to lose her house. It’s similar to a lot of stories throughout the country and it affects millions of people. She purchased a new home on December 4, 2003 and that’s when her troubles began. The purchase price on her house at 1502 Running Oak Lane in Royal Palm Beach was $234,550.00. At the time she was living in New York and made the decision as a single mother to start her life anew in Florida. She paid a substantial down payment, and secured a mortgage from Bank United that cost her $1500.00 per month, including taxes and insurance. She said that she could afford it.

What she didn’t count on was the time it took her to find another job in Florida that would allow her to continue her payments and live her life. She was late on some mortgage payments and at some point the bank threatened to foreclose. She then went to a mortgage broker who steered her to a hard money lender, Yale Mortgage. Yale gave her a variable rate mortgage however the terms of the mortgage were, in her opinion not the terms she was quoted. Her broker suggested that she pay the mortgage on time for six months, which she claims she did, while they continued to look for another lender with better terms. Her payment to Yale was $2800.00 monthly, almost twice what her payments were to Bank United. Additionally, Yale does not report to any credit agencies which adversely affected her credit, and if she were able to find another lender there would also be a huge prepayment penalty. She finally found ACORN who has been working with her to avoid foreclosure on her house. She and Yale Mortgage have been at odds since August, 2007. Her house was originally scheduled to be foreclosed on in November, 2007. She has been interviewed on NPR, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89856332, and was referred to on Good Morning America, http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=5459044&page=1.  Salkey claims that as a result of her NPR interview Yale Mortgage refuses to deal with her. Her home is scheduled to be taken Thursday, Feb. 19.

The ACORN training session

The ACORN headquarters are located at 120 Colonial Drive in Downtown Orlando. The meeting room was filled to capacity. Many of these people were either in or being threatened with foreclosure. William Moore chairs the Foreclosure Committee for ACORN in Orlando, Florida. He cited that the State of Florida is number two nationally behind California in the number of foreclosures and, given the two populations, it is number one on a per capita basis. Orange County leads all other areas in the state, so the nation will be focused on what happens here. Monday, February 16 starts an initiative called Home Defenders. Moore explained that ACORN members and volunteers will be visiting the neighbors of homeowners threatened with foreclosure to enlist neighborhood support. On Thursday, February 19 there will be active teams in place to prevent city or county officials from taking possession of the property. These teams are designed to offer non-violent resistance to any and all people trying to force people out of their houses. Certain team members are also designated to go to prison if the situation arises. These tactics have been used recently in Baltimore and Oakland and they worked. According to Moore the bank had auctioned off the foreclosed property and as a result of ACORN’s actions they withdrew the acceptance and renegotiated with the original owner. Moore intimated that the banks really wanted to do the “right thing”; they just needed a little push in the right direction with ACORN’s help. The key is the number of people that can turn out in support of ACORN’s efforts. “The more people, the more homes we can save” says Moore.

Moore is no stranger to predatory lending techniques used by the banks. His parents are also victims. Moore has an MBA and a law degree and still needed ACORN to accomplish what he needs to.  His parents owned a dry-wall installation business and were getting ready to retire. They wanted to make improvements to their home and enjoy their retirement. They were not sophisticated in the world of finance and wound up in the hands of a predatory lender. By the time Moore got involved it was almost too late. Moore was also hampered last year by life threatening surgery which rendered him ineffective for a long time. His experiences led him to ACORN where he is an active member of the organization.

You can do something about it

Travis Munnerlyn fought back and won. Munnerlyn and his wife raised their children in the same house and were preparing to make improvements in order to raise their grandsons. They wanted to add a bedroom. Their lender was Countrywide, a now failed bank that specialized in predatory loans, was taken over by Bank of America. The interest rate on their mortgage ballooned at the same time that his wife, Patricia, was laid off after seventeen years with the same company. Munnerlyn also had health problems. Munnerlyn sought out the aid of ACORN and worked with several officials including Governor Charlie Crist to reverse his situation. Last year he received a lot of attention nationally. He was profiled in AARP Magazine http://bulletin.aarp.org/yourmoney/personalfinance/articles/millions_of_americans.html and made appearances on Good Morning America http://acorn.org/?4316.  His story is on Youtube in his own words www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2hEjNcbpNI.

A brief history of ACORN

ACORN was founded in Little Rock, Arkansas by Wade Rathke, an organizer for George Wiley’s National Welfare Rights Organization. The goal was to unite welfare recipients with working people in need around issues of free school lunches for schoolchildren, unemployed workers’ concerns, Vietnam Veterans’ rights and hospital emergency room care. Thus, an idea of low and moderate income community activism was born that would grow and adapt, thrive and flourish, and become a powerful movement from coast to coast. ACORN quickly became a powerful force in Little Rock and Arkansas politics and grew within ten years to active chapters in twenty states. The 1990 ACORN convention in Chicago focused on the fast-breaking housing campaign. The convention also included the ACORN Elected Official Conference which developed strategies for independent electoral organizations.

In 1991The housing issue was still a constant sore point. ACORN fought back against bank lobbyist efforts to gut the CRA. ACORN members staged a two- day takeover of the House Banking Committee hearing room to be sure their voices were heard by Congress. They stood in line overnight and took seats normally occupied by bank lobbyists. As a result, they won the Congressional vote to preserve the CRA in a power move that got national attention.

ACORN has continued to grow and is now in 42 states with over 400,000 member families. It claims responsibility for registering over 100,000 new voters in the state of Florida for the 2008 election. ACORN continues to build community organizations that are committed to social and economic justice, and continues to take action on thousands of issues.

Home Defenders prepare

Inez Batista is scheduled to lose her house on March 19. She lives in Avalon Park, east of Orlando. Avalon Park is a planned community with single and multi-family homes, apartments and retail enterprises. The publicity for the area advertises the benefits and spaciousness of small town living. Home prices range from the low 200,000’s to the high 500,000’s. Inez’s husband had a construction business and in 2003 the business was doing well. They had three small children and Inez was a stay at home mother. They bought the house in 2004 and for a short while life was good, that is until the downturn in the construction industry.  Inez and her husband both got jobs, but they seriously fell behind in their payments and received notification of foreclosure in August 2008. The Batistas then hired Advantage Mortgage of Miami who claimed that they could help get a modified agreement with Countrywide. Advantage required an immediate payment of $1500.00 up front in certified funds. The Batistas paid the money and waited. Unfortunately for them, Advantage never contacted Countrywide about refinancing-they talked to them about selling the property. The Batistas then called Countrywide directly to see if they could get a modification and were told to contact a firm called The Home Team. They also went to court to get an extension, which will keep them in their house legally until March 19. When the modification documents were delivered to them they were for a lot more money and monthly payments than the original mortgage. The Batistas refused to sign so they are now facing foreclosure.

 

The first Home Defenders project will be to rally around and protect Inez Batista and her family. Monday and Tuesday ACORN will be walking the neighborhood to gather community support, and Thursday the kickoff event will take place at the Batista house starting at 1:00 PM. There are several thousand homes in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties that are being foreclosed on. This is only round one.

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