This photo is from the front page of a study on the ongoing foreclosure and underwater mortgage crisis in Seattle, called "The Wall Street Wrecking Ball." The study was published by Washington CAN and United Black Clergy.
Group says foreclosure crisis still alive in West Seattle
The news today tells us Seattle’s economic and housing revival is in full swing.
As a result, the stories of those still mired in the foreclosure and underwater mortgage crisis that began in 2008 often times get drowned out, and a small group of victims and advocates gathered at the Delridge Library on July 1 to make sure that lingering reality is exposed.
Organized by the Washington Community Action Network (CAN), the group met to share their stories of battling banks for loan modifications in advance of foreclosure, to share stats on how the crisis has impacted West Seattle, and to highlight next steps.
CAN explains the situation as such: Seattleites are still reeling from the effects of the Great Recession, which brought record rates of unemployment and foreclosure and blew holes in state budgets nationwide. While it was Wall Street’s toxic lending practices and recklessness that created the economic crisis, it is Seattle homeowners and taxpayers who are still paying the price.”
The discussion was led by Vera Johnson, owner of the Village Green Nursery in White Center who’s foreclosure battle with the Bank of America garnered national media attention, and West Seattle resident Betsy Andrews, who has been butting heads with banks since losing her teaching job over a year ago.
“Not a single bank executive, CEO or loan officer has gone to jail for predatory lending or any of the other crimes they have committed,” Andrews said. “The discussion is not whether they committed these crimes … Eric Holder has admitted they committed these crimes and yet not one of them has gone to jail.”
In reaction, the women joined several other American homeowners in a trip to Washington D.C. on May 20 of this year to protest on the steps of the Justice Department. They wore signs on their chests identifying themselves as power players in the banking world (Johnson was Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan and Andrews was Citi CEO Micheal Corbat). Unwilling to give their own names and homeland security officers pressured them for details, they were arrested that day with 22 others.
The two said they “took an arrest” for “the people who should really be in jail.”
You can watch a YouTube clip of the protest here.
Bringing it back home
“Foreclosure isn’t a sexy topic anymore and the media doesn’t really want to talk about it anymore,” Johnson said. “They think the economy is fixing itself, and everything is getting sorted out and everybody is getting better and let’s all pretend this isn’t happening.”
The reality, according to CAN volunteer and Highland Park resident Joelle Craft, is it is still happening. Citing a CAN study released in conjunction with United Black Clergy in June, Craft presented their housing crisis numbers for West Seattle:
- 1,861 families lost their homes in West Seattle between 2008 and 2012
- 7,662 homes are still underwater (when the amount of the mortgage is greater than the current value of the home) in West Seattle
- West Seattle families have lost a total of nearly $506 million in home value during the housing crisis
“These numbers, to me, are just astonishing and this is why we need to get out there,” Craft said.
Getting out there (and championing a local solution)
Chris Genese with CAN said their research shows 33 percent of Seattle-wide homeowners are underwater by an average of $93,000, meaning they are “next in line for foreclosure.”
“It’s great that the market is recovering,” he said, “but it’s not going to recover fast enough for these people.”
CAN believes the only way to save those homeowners and end the foreclosure crisis locally is to “reset mortgages to fair market value by reducing principal.” They contend that move “could save families $9,253 a year, which would pump $392 million a year into the economy and create 5,800 jobs."
In reality, such a proposition is not exactly far-fetched as Seattle’s City Council commissioned a study in March to identify “local solutions for low-income homeowners and communities impacted by the foreclosure crisis.” They are expected to hear back on the results of that study on July 23.
With opportunity for public comment arising with the release of that study, Genese said, “What we need to do is we need to elevate this issue and we need to tell our stories, to put pressure on the banks and paint them as the villain that they are. And tell city council and the city of Seattle that this is how the banks are treating us.”
Before the hour-long meeting came to an end, one West Seattle woman (name withheld) decided to share her story with the group. Here it is:
I lost my home.
I tried for two and a half years to get a loan modification (I got sick in 2008 and couldn’t work) and we still kept paying our house payment for a year and a half until 2010 when our son had to have two brain surgeries in one year and our income went down even further because my husband had to not only take care of our son, but he had to help take care of me.
And so we did the whole dance of submitting papers and submitting papers and trying to sit in a hospital and submit papers in a timely fashion (and the bank said they did not get the proper paperwork in time to stave off foreclosure proceedings).
We finally went to a HUD counselor last year and (the bank) did the same thing to him. Our foreclosure auction was scheduled for Nov. 2 and they still hadn’t given us an answer and it was Oct. 30 and we thought the account had already gone to foreclosure auction. We got a phone call from an attorney offering us bankruptcy so we could try to save our home and that’s how we knew that it was rescheduled for Nov. 9 and we still didn’t have an answer from the bank.
On Nov. 7, late in the afternoon they let us know that they had denied our last loan modification so there was nothing for us to do because the foreclosure auction was set for Nov. 9 in the morning, so our house was sold back to the bank.
I have still been fighting for my home, we are still in our home because I refuse to just give up because what they’ve done to us is not right, and what they are doing to everyone else is not right. The thing that had kept me silent for so long was the shame that I felt and the judgment from people that “That’s what expected of people who look like me, it’s expected of people who look like me to not take care of their financial responsibilities.” It doesn’t matter what the rest of the story is, that the reason I couldn’t work was because I was sick and dying and it doesn’t matter that during the height of all that craziness banks were going after you: “Oh, refinance your house, oh refinance your house, oh refinance your house.” Should I have not refinanced my house? No, in hindsight I shouldn’t have, but at the time that was the culture of the banks.
I’ve been in my house for 24 years and we are back in the eviction process again. I don’t know what’s going to happen this time …
… I keep telling myself that I can get over the loss of my home, but what I can’t get over is the anger that we sit so greenly in our homes believing that the economy is recovering, we sit so blindly believing that the housing market is recovering and getting better when there is a house that was foreclosed three years ago sitting right across the street from our house.
At what point are we going to stop dehumanizing the people who have been swept up by this tidal wave of insanity and greed and selfishness and inequity and say something: That it is not right.
So anyways, that’s my story.