Detroit couple avoids eviction thanks to Occupy movement

By Jay Scott Smith, 02/02/2012

Bertha Garrett thanks Occupy Detroit, People Before Banks, and Moratorium Now!

and describes the struggle to save her home from foreclosure.

Metro Detroit, according to the Detroit News, also has the most unsold lender-repossessed properties of any metro area in the country. The Garretts’ situation is actually commonplace, as banks and trustees will often rescind and change offers, forcing homeowners out.

“Many homeowners have recovered from the initial hardship that caused the default, and they just need assistance getting the past due balance brought current,” said Michelle Finley, no relation, who is the head of the Homeowner’s Advocate Association in Detroit. “The problem is the investor will refuse to work with them because they have already written off the debt and you can’t renegotiate something that does not exist.”

Finley, who started Homeowner’s Advocate in 2007, often comes to the aid of families like the Garretts who find themselves dealing with foreclosures and Sheriff Sales. She said that practices such as this are norm in terms of banks and mortgage lenders.

“It’s mainly mortgage servicers, not necessarily the banks,” she said. “It is legal as long as it is not challenged. The balance increases because there is no interest being paid, with late fees and assessment fees adding to the defaulted mortgage balance each month.”

Help for the Garretts finally arrived on Monday as members of Moratorium Now, Occupy Detroit, and Homes Before Banks rallied at the Detroit office of New York Mellon. Supporters also blocked a city contractor from placing a dumpster in front of the Garretts’ home – a common practice when a family is about to be evicted.

On Tuesday, a representative of Statebridge Co., a servicer for the mortgage, called the Garretts to say the company would finally accept the $12,000 to buy back the home. When U.S, Rep. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit, got word of the Garretts’ plight, an office staffer reached out to them. By the time they reached the family, the matter was settled.

“We were determined to do anything we could to let them stay in the house,” said Winifred Money, a Clarke staffer. “Most of our calls are on foreclosure. There’s not a day that goes by that a new person isn’t calling.”

Michelle Finley of the Homeowner’s Advocate Association was happy to see the family was able to get the situation rectified, but offered a word of advice to other families in similar binds.

“Documents and letters received from the lender or servicer should not be ignored,” she said. “The homeowner should never let it get to the point of eviction before seeking assistance.”

The Garretts, having already saved the $12,000, are set to buy back the home. All they need is the purchase agreement from the mortgage company.

“I’m so happy,” Michele Finley said. “But until I see a signed piece of paper saying my parents have a house, I won’t believe it.”

Follow Jay Scott Smith on Twitter at @JayScottSmith

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