Max Smith wants justice for other homeowners. You’d like this guy. You’d like to sit down and have a beer with Max Smith. He the sort of man anyone would be proud to have as a neighbor. I would, because Max Smith is the sort who would give you the shirt off his back. Salt of the earth, as they say. He puts his neighbors first, including those he might never have met.
But Max Smith has a story to tell, and he’s pissed. Max wants justice. He is one of millions of homeowners in this country hammered, both emotionally and economically, by the foreclosure crisis. He may well be one of hundreds of thousands-that have been verified as being abused by the system, by the banks and abandoned by the justice system. Revolution and Beer has carried a number of these stories, illustrating how easily consumers, who do everything right, can become victims of shady banking practices and an emasculated judicial system. That is prone to happen when banks and corporations write and promote industry sympathetic legislation.
The federal government called the National Foreclosure Settlement historic back in February 2012. It involved 5 of the largest banks and lenders, Ally/GMAC, Bank of America, Citi, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo, to provide some $25 billion to relieve distressed homeowners. Just one small problem, as a key, but not widely publicized provision of the settlement, the States Attorney Generals were made to agree that there would never be any prosecutions. Quite a deal. These AGs can do little more than send really terse letters.
“These banks were supposed to be modifying home loans,” said JR Fleming, of Chicago Anti-Eviction, a community grassroots organization that comes to the aid of foreclosed homeowners. “Instead, the banks have not been doing anything! Wells Fargo is the worst.” http://www.nationalmortgagesettlement.com/about
I was introduced to Max at a rally last week in front of the Lincoln Park offices of Wells Fargo on Chicago’s North side. He says that he tried to negotiate with the bank after the Hyundai dealership he worked for closed. Their customer service, he told me, was impossible to negotiate, and the operators showed no interest in helping him. Max could never reach the same operator twice, meaning he’d have to explain the basic issues each time, without getting any nearer to a solution. Wells Fargo operates multiple customer service banks throughout the country.
“It is a crap shoot which one you’ll reach,” said one Wells Fargo customer who asked not to be identified.
But Max was undeterred, and as a responsible homeowner, wanted to pay his debt. Complicating this frustrating issue, Max was a victim of the predatory lending which many banks specifically targeted at minority communities. He quickly found himself saddled with 12% interest on top of the loan amount. What he was asking from Wells Fargo was a modification of the interest amount. For that he was ignored and condescended to, he says. Wells Fargo asked for income verification, which was not a pretext before the housing bubble burst. Max had worked on commission at the dealership, making verification difficult.
Max is a working man, and quickly found a new job at a nearby Chevrolet dealership; also a commission job. That dealership too fell victim to the economy, throwing him out of work once more. Jobs are hard to come by, and this went on for Max for the better part of 3 years, affecting his health as well, Finally he landed a part-time job at a Home Depot for minimum wage and was able to verify his income. After being threatened with foreclosure and homelessness, the bank at last modified his loan.
But Max, though out of imminent trouble, is “pissed off.” He calls the experience traumatic, and he’s out here for others facing the inhuman and arrogant treatment by the banks that are part of the National Foreclosure Settlement. They simply can ignore the settlement without any fear of accountability from the legal system, and without regard to the rights of the consumer. But deep within the legal maze of the foreclosure process lies hope for beleagured homeowners. That’s where Chicago Anti-Eviction comes in.
“We aren’t going anywhere,” says Fleming. “Regardless, there are channels that Chicago Anti-Eviction will find. It’s a lose/lose in the end for Wells Fargo.”
And they have scored victories, but their small group is swamped by struggling and desperate homeowners, and these cases take time. The cost to the homeowner, financially, emotionally and to their health can be substantial, leaving deep and lasting scars not at all unlike the post-traumatic trauma suffered by war survivors. It is simply exhausting, which prompts many to give up and accept foreclosure. To that Fleming is adament, “when faced with foreclosure, never give up your home. Once you leave, the bank wins.”
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