I’ve been upside down with housing and reluctant to write about it, but friends insisted. So, here is my side of the story. It all started in 2010 when I phoned the bank. “I’ve paid my mortgage for 20 years but I ‘m going through job loss and a divorce. Can you help?” Chase answered, “The only way we can modify your loan is if you quit paying.” After repeated calls and verifying the same thing, I quit paying.
I spent the next two years chasing down Chase to get my home back. I was constantly rushing to the bank with documents, faxing information and filling out forms. This was my full time job while I looked for one. Meanwhile I got big black foreclosure letters on my door and voicemails relentlessly from the bank.
Of course many, many families have lost their homes. Are the banks getting away with it? What’s up with that? Is there one set of laws for them and another for the rest of us? Now they say the economy is gearing up again and investors are buying the empty houses.
Anyway, every week a new “rep” was in charge of my file. I didn’t know where all my bank statements and docs landed, on which desk in which office and with which clerk. The bank didn’t, either.
On a typical morning, leaning into my coffee, elbow to my desk, ear pressed to phone, I was told I had a “committed, portfolio manager.” Then the new person needed 60 pages faxed to her because the computer couldn’t transfer my former documents. One “loan mod” company disappeared taking my money. I let go of another.
One icicle-cold morning a neighbor stopped by when I was getting my mail. I found 18 letters from Chase in the box and handed them to him as his eyes bobbed out of his head. Another neighbor stuttered, “I see the house is being auctioned in the newspaper Saturday.” I asked, “When?” I felt like I was in a monster movie. Was this really happening?
Meanwhile I lost tenants who were renting the cottage. They had foreclosure letters taped to their door once too often, and fled.
At night, I panicked. If I lost the house where could I go? Could I live in my car? Where might I relocate? I looked at rentals but most wouldn’t take my dogs.
The hardest memory was on Christmas Eve. I pleaded with Chase, “Christmas day is my birthday. Are we complete for now?” They stated, “You’re fine. Just relax for the holidays.” Sure enough, on Christmas Eve there were notices nailed to the door. My stomach hurt that holiday.
Lots of people I talked to in similar situations were too ashamed to tell their stories. In a group I joined, we whispered about our pain and learned we weren’t alone. I talked to my tax accountant, called my friends and prayed. The Occupy people offered support, friends said if the police came they would go to jail with me and talk to reporters. I just couldn’t believe this
was all happening. Police? How could my life be about these kinds of conversations?
Often my feet felt stuck in cement. I realized I was a part of unexpected history. I hoped in my head that someday bankers would face suits and lawyers would talk about how many millions of people believed them and lost their homes. Now the news says “too big to punish “as stated in the Press Democrat (Dec. 22, 2012) editorial: “It may take more prosecutions to get their attention.”
Well, I got my house back but I’m one of the lucky ones. How did I get the loan modification? I don’t know. I just know I worked my butt off.
I know one man at the bank did finally advocate for me. I told the bank clerks how much I needed my home, how impossible it was to find rentals, how many years I paid on time and how much I believed their promises. I tried everything, including transparency. They made some mistakes that I caught. But most of all, the Sonoma community gave me strength.
We need to tell our stories. Maybe shame or exhaustion is why we, the people, aren’t fighting the banks harder. Being beaten up for too long isn’t invigorating; it leaves one with a dull thud of depression. I guess the banks are sliding out of all this now. Are we done speaking up?
Katy Byrne, MFT, Psychotherapist in Sonoma, writes “Hairballs” (Learned from her cat).