Oakland residents converged Tuesday on an East Oakland street that has been blighted by foreclosures, calling for a freeze on foreclosures until the Homeowners Bill of Rights comes into effect in January, 2013. California Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law on July 2, which and will prevent banks from forcing families from their homes while they are still negotiating mortgages settlements.
Chanting slogans and carrying placards, at least 35 residents and homeowners demanded that the City of Oakland be declared a foreclosure-free zone until the Homeowners Bill of Rights comes into effect. Among other consumer protections, the bill will require banks to provide mortgage holders with a single point of contact when they are negotiating their loans or loan modifications, as opposed to the current situation in which homeowners say they have been bounced from one customer service agent to another. Banks and lenders would also be required to give a clear explanation to mortgage holders and borrowers when they deny requests for loan modifications.
The bill would also end the current practice known as “dual tracking,” in which banks and lending institutions can proceed with action to foreclose on a home at the same time as they actively engage a homeowner in negotiations to repay their mortgage.
“Even if people get the modifications, there still is a possibility of them losing their homes,” said Katt Hoban, an organizer with advocacy group the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) which organized the protest.
The protest was held in the Maxwell Park neighborhood of East Oakland, a neighborhood that the group says has been scarred by foreclosures in recent months. In particular, the venue was chosen to save the home of retired postal worker Lola Daniels, 62, who is at the verge of losing her home on Maxwell Street over a $360,000 mortgage to Bank of America and OneWest (IndyMac).
Daniels’ story has touched many residents in the neighborhood, who say she was forced to retire early from her job with the postal service due to a health condition that has placed her on dialysis at least three days a week. In addition to her early retirement and illness, Daniels supports a disabled son.
“We are calling on the city to take action and declare Oakland a foreclosure free-zone till the Homeowners Bill of Rights comes into effect in January,” said Yvone Standford, Daniels’ sister, who was among the protesters. “There are a lot of people that are in jeopardy of losing their homes right now.”
“There are so many foreclosures that are in the pipeline and this is what has forced me to get involved with ACCE,” Standford continued. “I saw that my sister was in trouble. She never defaulted on her payments until health problems forced her to go into early retirement.”
At least four houses on Maxwell Street, all within 500 feet of each other, have either been foreclosed on or are at the verge of foreclosure, including a foreclosed house at the corner of Kingsland Avenue that caught fire and resulted in one fatality in July.
Two houses down from Daniels’ house is a home belonging to Patricia Mason, which is in danger of being foreclosed upon. Protester Debi Mason said her sister, a retired teacher, owns the house. She said that her sister, also a Bank of America client, has been fighting to keep her house and several auction dates for the house have passed, with yet another auction set for September 24.
“I do believe that this auction is not going to go through either,” Debi Mason said. “They have tried to auction it several times and the day has come and it has been pushed back. We would like to bring more focus to what it is that the Bank of America is doing.”
In the meantime, plywood scaffolding and boarded up windows punctuate Maxwell Street, a trend that residents say has cast a somber mood on the neighborhood. “Many families have packed up in the middle of the night and left,” said Debi Mason. “Foreclosed houses just look a little different. They are boarded up with plywood, have bare maintenance and [are] fitted with the cheapest windows they can find. They have lost their old character.”
More than 10,000 Oakland Oakland homeowners have lost their homes to foreclosures since 2007, according to ACCE. “West Oakland has a plethora of foreclosed homes that have been bought by investors,” said Hoban. “So many of those houses are going to investors, and we are trying to get the banks to back off on foreclosures until the Homeowners Bill of Rights comes into effect.”
Many residents have joined the ACCE group in an effort to bring themselves up to speed with the legal complexities that often cloud corporate communications on foreclosures. “At least the Homeowners Bill of Rights gives you some hope that, you’re not going to just have to pack in the night and leave,” said Debi Mason, “that the sheriff is not around the bend. The banks are unresponsive. You can’t really call a banker and say ‘Can you help me?’ The bill will really help people.”