A nightmare interrupted: Home foreclosure is postponed

OAKLAND, Calif. — When does keeping a promise turn into a nightmare? When it involves a home whose price has ballooned beyond reason, a realtor who fails to make loan terms clear, and a lender who refuses to modify soaring mortgage costs.

That’s what Tosha Alberty and her family found out as they struggled to make payments that soared to nearly $5,000 monthly so they could stay in their modest, well-kept home in a West Oakland working-class neighborhood.

Interviewed soon after dawn on May 7 as dozens of “home defenders” organized by ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) gathered to try and ward off the sheriff’s anticipated arrival, Alberty said she had promised her mother the family would be in its own home by the end of 2005. Early that year, her mother was killed by a hit-and-run driver.

The home’s former owner, who acted as realtor and arranged the loan, failed to make the terms clear until the very end, she said, and then assured her that after six months, the loan would be reworked to be affordable.

“He didn’t respect me enough to see the pain I was feeling then over losing my mom, and to let me know what could happen.”

At the signing, Alberty discovered that along with the first mortgage and its $2,800 monthly payment came a second loan with another $1,000 payment. When the payments later ballooned to nearly $5,000, she sought help but could not find it.

Now, she said, she expects the home sold to her for $550,000 will be sold to someone else for around $100,000 to $150,000. “I could afford that, too,” she said. “That’s what we wanted in the first place.”

Alberty, a county worker, and her husband, now a cancer patient, share the home with a daughter, two sons and two grandchildren.

As we talked, the home defenders were whipping out their cell phones to start an hours-long avalanche of calls to the mortgage lender, who finally agreed to postpone the family’s eviction for a week. ACORN is staying tuned.

Among those upholding the Alberty family’s right to stay in their home were the subjects of the country’s first ACORN home defenders action last February, Martha and Eddie Daniels. Martha Daniels is now vice president of Oakland ACORN’s foreclosure chapter. The Daniels, whose rent payments were current when their home’s owner defaulted, are in ongoing negotiations to buy their home.

ACORN says its home defenders mobilize “to peacefully help defend a family’s right to stay in their home until a fair solution to the nation’s foreclosure crisis can be implemented to protect victimized families from losing their homes.”

In other recent actions, home defenders have kept homes from being auctioned off on courthouse steps.

Late last month home defenders gathered in California’s capital, Sacramento, to lobby on housing legislation disrupted foreclosure auctions taking place on the steps of the Sacramento County Courthouse, causing one sale to be temporarily cancelled. Sales of other homes proceeded despite the interruptions.

Texas home defenders gathered earlier this month at courthouses in Dallas, Houston, El Paso and other cities, calling on state legislators to act before the current legislative session ends June 1, to give homeowners a better chance to keep their homes.

Writing for the Huffington Post April 29, ACORN head Bertha Lewis cited Philadelphia’s Foreclosure Diversion Program as “the most successful anti-foreclosure program in the country.” While ACORN supports the Obama administration’s plans to mitigate the crisis, she said, the organization believes much more needs to be done, and the Philadelphia program can serve as a model at the local level.

Over three-fourths of participants in the year-old program remain in their homes today where in other locations they would have lost their homes. The program requires lenders to negotiate a mutually agreeable solution whenever possible.

ACORN’s report, “The Road to Rescue,” points out that the program “is so effective because it is mandatory, uses very effective community outreach, is easy for homeowners to participate in , and utilizes the expertise of housing counselors.” The report is available on www.acorn.org.