HELP IS A PHONE CALL AWAY!:) The words are from the Department of Housing and Urban development. The exclamation point and smiley face are mine. There is a referral service, and the operators are very courteous in between the polished and pre-recorded legal disclaimers. The website also will steer homeowners to resources in their local community. Sounds great. Helpful, right? But what if all that is less a resource than a means to status quo in the system. What if it has the best of intentions, but only offers the illusion of help for those tough and complex cases which seem alarmingly all too frequent?
The system is built upon some hard metrics and timelines, such as the time before foreclosure can be initiated, the time to an eviction. The homeowner and their case only remains relevant as long as they remain in their home. Once they are out of the home, it is pretty much a done deal, from the system’s point of view. For now, in Cook County, Sheriff Tom Dart has taken as much of a stand as he can against serious questions of impropriety and possibly illegality in the foreclosure crisis. His officers are necessary to enforce and oversee foreclosure evictions. But he has been under significant pressure from his superiors to comply with the letter of the law, the spirit notwithstanding.
Still, the growing impression among those close to the foreclosure issue, is that the system, either by default or design is structured to let the clock run out on homeowners, regardless of the merits of their case or complaint. Make no waves, in other words, and eventually the problem, and people, will simply go away.
“The great consensus,” observes Shirely Henderson, from Chicago Anti-eviction, a non-profit that helps homeowners fight foreclosure and eviction, “I’ve been coming to is that time is not on the side of the homeowner. Where is the concern for the fellow man? This is a human being. They expect them to go into foreclosure, accept it, find a lot to live in and go away.”
The case of Mike Henderson, on Chicago’s Westside illustrates that perfectly. His case hinges on the refusal of institutions to fully release all pertinent documents. HUD closed Henderson’s complaint in 2004, but reopened it later that same year. The case, however, remains in limbo. The officials close to Henderson’s case simply have not returned repeated calls from the media, Mr. Henderson or Chicago Anti-eviction. 900poundgorilla placed more than a dozen calls to HUD’s Dudley Williams, Russell Turner and Monica Dickson in Washington DC without a response. So much for resource, it would seem.
“The loan should not have closed, because NHS(Neighborhood Housing Services) never tendered funds to the title company,” Ms. Henderson(no relation to Michael)points out. That’s the 900 pound gorilla in the room.”
Neither Chicago Title nor NHS would or have commented on the failure to transfer the loan, nor explain how the loan closed at all in that case. To get clarification, 900poundgorilla reached out to 2nd Ward Alderman Robert Fioretti, and is awaiting a response from Alderman. In the meantime, Mike Henderson points to a system and culture which favors the banks, regardless of the merits of a homeowner faced with foreclosure. In court hearings, the judges gave hardly a passing consideration of Henderson’s meticulously maintained documentation, without rendering even an opinion.
“A black man can’t get angry,” Henderson said, “or they’ll put you away. I speak calmly and never above a whisper.”
And all the stakeholders in Henderson’s case have to do are to wait for the clock to run out in Henderson’s case. Time is fully on the side of the banks and courts. Even among those who hear about the case in the media. Their first reaction is automatic: What have these people done wrong. They must have done something wrong.
Society assumes that the banks will follow the letter of the law, despite the massive evidence to the contrary, particularly after the banking system’s culpability in the financial collapse and great recession. Even after all of that, with a near collapse from greed and outright criminality by banks and finacial institutions, the banks were massively bailed out by a government which then looked the other way. Not one banker has gone to jail, but millions have lost their homes and had their lives upended.
For Mary Bonelli, time is at a premium. Suffering from a serious illness, she has neither the energy nor the money to fight that ticking clock towards foreclosure and eviction from the home her family has owned since 1921. Mary’s case is not as unique as one may think. She furnishes the documents and statements to show Fifth Third bank simply stopped accepting her automatically debited payments, and that all of the money for those payments remains in her account. Regardless, as she was stonewalled for months by the bank, they were foreclosing on her behind the scenes.
Now, she is not so much fighting to keep her home, as to keep from being evicted, which is not necessarily the same fight, and not with the same institutions and authorities. Retired and disabled, requiring a walker to get around, and a drawer full of medications to live, she is at a critical disadvantage. There has been some indication of movement in Mary’s case, but only from the extraordinary effort by Mary, friends and anti-eviction groups.
Mary Bonelli and Mike Henderson are hardly alone in their situation, but feel very much alone in the struggle. But for the stalwart determination to dig in and fight with neighbors and over-burdened grassroots groups like Chicago Anti-eviction, NorthsidePOWER, Occupy Chicago, Communities United Against Foreclosure and Eviction, and El Centro Autonomo in Albany Park, the clock would run out for Mike, Mary and thousands like them around Chicago.
Even worse is that, like Mary, a simple error at a bank or lender can have disastrous ramifications for a homeowner who has done everything by the book. What is more, there is little support of sympathy in the system to hold the bank or lender accountable. It favors the lender, and holds the homeowner accountable for every detail and mistake as they navigate the costly and confusing maze to keep their home.
For Mike Henderson, he is exhausted and perplexed and fighting for every document, any sympathetic ear, and holding desperately to anyone who shows the least amount of interest in his case.
Among those stalwart supporters, Shirley Henderson from Chicago Anti-eviction is undaunted. “We will continue to protect his right to housing.”
But 10 years is a long time for anyone to fight. The struggle weighs heavily on a man who suffered a near fatal heart attack a few years ago, leaving him disabled. His wife’s health has suffered from the stress of all this as well. Their home is unfinished, and without heat and hot water is unsafe to live in, and that is the ultimate injustice in that unforgiving system.
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Catch the beer of the week review with 900poundgorilla’s WC Turck and Brian Murray each Sunday 8-9am only on Our Town, at Chicago’s Progressive Talk, WCPT AM and FM, and streaming online. Friend us on Facebook at Revolution and Beer. And find all of the great beers we review each week at Louis Glunz Beer Inc., http://www.glunzbeers.com