Rally urges bank to modify home loans now

CHICAGO — Elitha Brown has been a home childcare provider here for 17 years. She employs three assistants and watches over six children at her home business. In May 2005, Brown suffered a neck and back injury at her second job where she cares for adults with disabilities. Her income was significantly decreased due to off and on work there.

Today, Brown is in danger of losing her home because Charter One Bank’s subsidiary, CCO Mortgage, refuses to modify her loan.

Brown tried contacting Charter One to explain her situation and loss of income, but the bank repeatedly dismissed her requests. She began working with a housing counselor who also tried contacting the bank, but his calls were never returned. The bank finally said they had not received adequate information regarding Brown’s case, even though Brown says she sent in all of her paperwork twice.

Brown’s income was finally validated and the bank said her job was not stable enough for a loan modification, even though Brown argues her income has not changed since she refinanced her mortgage five years ago.

Her story is all too common among thousands living here struggling to save their homes, their place of business and their community.

That’s why dozens of activists with Action Now, a local grassroots community organization and several labor leaders with the Service Employees International Union’s Healthcare Illinois-Indiana joined Brown during a downtown rally here August 20, in front of the Charter One Bank. The groups are demanding that CCO Mortgage/Charter One modify Brown’s home loan immediately.

During the rally Brown met with bank officials inside. They told her they would get back to her at a later time. Brown was not surprised.

“From the beginning the bank had no intention of working out a loan modification,” said Brown. “They were just giving me the runaround and waiting for time to run out so that they could kick me out of my home.”

Brown said the bank is trying anything to stop a loan modification.

“How am I supposed to feel, if I’m about to lose everything,” she said. “I’ve done everything I could possibly do.” Brown said she plans to keep fighting to save her home and her business.

Critics at the rally said Brown is one of thousands of borrowers that have been unfairly denied loan modifications by one of several subsidiaries of Citizens Bank, which owns Charter One and CCO Mortgage.

Citizens Bank is the ninth largest bank in the U.S. and received $300 million dollars in federal bailout funds (TARP). They also recently applied for $190 million in new funds from the Treasury Department despite being under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for their participation in sub-prime lending.

According to recent reports by the Treasury Department, CCO Mortgage has only modified 6 percent of their mortgages that qualify under President Barack Obama’s Making Home Affordable Program.

This is unacceptable, speakers at the rally say.

Citizens Bank has taken millions of dollars in taxpayer money, yet refuses to modify homeowners’ unaffordable sub-prime loans, said Denise Dixon, executive director of Action Now. They must begin to modify people’s loans in order to stop foreclosures and fix the housing crisis that their bad loans created, she said.

Dixon said Brown’s situation is one example of a bigger problem affecting the community.

“People are being foreclosed on everyday in our communities,” said Dixon. “Thousands in Cook County alone,” she added. “Our neighborhoods are in shambles with too many abandoned homes that become safe havens for drugs and violence.”

Dixon notes that most foreclosed homes these days are not being resold, which impacts on the revenue available to an entire struggling community. Abandoned homes also bring down the property value of every other home, and that does no good, she said. “It’s not just about saving one home, it’s about saving an entire community.”

Brynn Seibert with SEIU Healthcare Illinois-Indiana said her union represents 35,000 home childcare providers.

“There are far too many working families who are in a crisis due to unfair lending practices,” said Seibert. “Brown is one of many working people that frankly need fair loans and should not be forced out of their homes because of bad lending practices,” she said.

Seibert says it’s important to support people like Brown and fight against predatory lending, said Seibert. Raising awareness about how this problem affects so many, especially childcare providers, she notes, is also important.

Marilyn Smith was at the rally and said she is experiencing the same situation as Brown with her bank, Wells Fargo.

“These banks are getting bailed out and now they are refusing to bail us, the people, out,” said Smith. “That’s why we are protesting here today.”

Smith said that vacant buildings adding up in the neighborhood affects everyone living in the area and that she “won’t give up. I’m a fighter and I’ve been a fighter all along.”

plozano @pww.org