The House They Live(d) In…
The tense might be different but the pain is the same.
Hard-working folks like the Santamaria family suffer that pain on a daily basis. Their Palm Bay, Florida, home has been the subject of a foreclosure since 2013.
Take a look at the picture — a hard look — and you’ll see the faces of an ordinary family; the same that Frank Sinatra crooned about in The House I Live In.
Unfortunately, it’s also the kind of picture you’ll see scattered about homes where families — having received eviction notices on short notices — had barely enough time to pack what amounts to a lifetime of memories.
I’ve seen it via an on-going Pacific Street Films documentary — Tale of Two Streets- started when the foreclosure crisis was first ramping up (among the first interviewees: Gretchen Morgenson, then with the New York Times).
It was 2007 and our cameras were riding along with a Cleveland Deputy Sheriff by the name of David Rowe on what amounted to his foreclosure rounds. Not an easy task for a policeman with a heart and at one point — almost in tears — he described his conflicted sense of having to do a job but also having a responsibility to those whose lives were about to be upended.
We followed him into a home as a so-called “property preservation” crew was about to start gathering the innards of a very middle-class abode where a young couple had quickly left, packing up little. Clearly, this was a panicked retreat, and among the detritus left behind were compelling memories of a lost life. Clothes were scattered everywhere; closets hurriedly emptied. Snapshots — like the one of the Santamaria’s — littered the floor. Here we found a wedding picture and there, tragically, a photo of a young smiling boy.
What’s really stolen when predators — like thieves in the night — steal a lifetime of memories?
National Urban League’s Marc Morial — at an anti-foreclosure rally in September of 2007 — perhaps said it best:
A home is where you raise your family. A home is where you lay your head at night. A home is where you come out of the cold to be warm. A home is where you nurture your children. A home is where you heal the sick; a home is where you comfort the elderly. A home is the basis of our very existence.
The Santamaria family knows this well. Hugh Son, in a 2013 Bloomberg piece titled, Secret Inside BofA Office of CEO Stymied Needy Homeowners, wrote about their plight; a plight best described in Yiddish terms as tsuris.
Bad enough that Son wrote about the abuse heaped upon them by a Bank of America scam modification outfit — Urban Lenders — a sketchy company employed to deal with the onslaught of homeowner appeals coming in under the Obama administration’s HAMP program.
According to former employees of Urban Lending Solutions the company began improperly and systematically denying requests for HAMP modifications. Erick Schnackenberg — a customer service manager cited in the article — was disgusted by what he saw and opined, everyone knew we weren't helping people… they were giving us all the pressure and none of the power to change anything. It was this absurd, self contained ecosystem of worthlessness.
In May of 2012 I wrote an American Banker opinion piece asking why Bank of America hadn’t been taken out to the woodshed and given a thorough legal thrashing for all the damage done by its Countrywide acquisition. Titled, Will R-I-C-O Spell ‘Relief’ For B of A Mortgage Borrowers? — citing that muscular law first employed against organized crime — all the legal experts I found (and I found no shortage) were equally confounded by the lack of desire by the Justice Department to employ RICO against this new set of organized financial criminals.
Well, in retrospect (and not to play the rube), the answer is simple: Bank of America’s well organized ecosystem consists of die-hard true believers who’ve been very vocal in supporting the policies that led homeowners down foreclosure’s primrose path. Among them: Larry Kudlow, now serving as the Administration’s top economic advisor. Gravely voice Larry made it crystal clear, in an October, 2011 interview, just where he stood while discussing foreclosure with Bank of America’s head honcho, Brian Moynihan.
Kudlow (to Moynihan): Isn’t it fair to say the faster the foreclosure, the better off we’re going to be? And I know there’s pain. But of course, some people lose, other people win. Young families come in, they’re going going to get very low prices. But the point is, the faster we clear our the unsold inventory, the sooner this country might start creating jobs in a real economic growth situation. Is that fair?
Five years after the Bloomberg story ran things have gone from bad to worse for the Santamarias. Isabel is disabled, with a host of afflictions including fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, sciatic neuropathy, depression, among others and despite carrying this painful baggage she’s been forced in and out of court.
During one appearance, she alleges, her chronic condition didn’t seem to matter one wit to the Judge or opposing counsel. While the hearing was in progress Isabel passed out and, unbelievably, the Judge kept the proceedings going. It was only after she collapsed to the floor did this Jurist — in all her wisdom — decide that maybe there needed to be a recess and while the opposing side looked on — doing nothing — the only gesture of kindness was the Bailiff who took action; comforting her until the paramedics arrived.
With much painful corroboration she feels that her treatment at the hands of the Court was in clear violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The struggle continues to take its toll. Isabel is still trying to pay off the medical bills engendered by this courtroom episode.
In the interim she’s lost business opportunities — the ability to make a living — and now, potentially, her home.
In her words:
The financial burden caused by these criminals has also caused me and my family years of suffering. My children are on the autism spectrum and have been greatly affected psychologically.
The final affront: In early December Isabel and her husband had to file for bankruptcy in order to avoid a house sale; the first time in nineteen years of marriage.
Unfortunately, this is “foreclosure justice” in the United States, where most Courtrooms are run by believers in that old Lenny Bruce nostrum: In the Halls of Justice the only justice is in the halls. It’s a case of Unequal Justice under Corporate Law and defendants, when their foreclosure cases get complicated, are left to swing on their own legal petards: punching bags for the suits at top drawer law firms like Sullivan & Cromwell (a Goldman Sachs favorite), K&L Gates, Greenberg Traurig, or Covington and Burling (the current home of Eric Holder, former DOJ Big Shot and chief enabler of Wall Street and their toxic shenanigans).
Then, way down the legal food chain, are those less classy brethren a foreclosure defendant must deal with when first entering the Court, a/k/a foreclosure mill sleaze, who usually dispense with any of the niceties of the law. They, like the mercifully vaporized law firm of Stephen Baum, go all in for the kill.
Anyone who’s gone through a foreclosure knows their type.
The economy is walking a tightrope and if a recession hits — and most experts believe that one is on the horizon — the impact for the Big Banking Boys may simply be the inability to buy that second Hampton's beach house or another Maserati. For Main Street — under that tightrope — there’s no safety net.
What can be done?
Clearly People Power — to sling that old phrase — and when the next uprising occurs it may be significantly different in shape and form than Occupy; a fact highlighted by the Yellow Vest movement in France (spreading now to other countries on the Continent). These vocal protestors, organized spontaneously, aren’t tied to any particular party. I’ve seen an interview, conducted by the BBC during the Paris uprisings, where two activists standing shoulder to shoulder proclaimed, respectively, that they were “left” and “right” but joined in solidarity against an oppressive regime run solely for the benefit of the rich.
I think back to that iconic Bob Dylan song, When The Ship Comes In: as relevant today as it was in 1964 when another generation faced unbending resistance to change.
Oh, the foes will rise
With the sleep still in their eyes
And they’ll jerk from their beds and think they’re dreamin’
But they’ll pinch themselves and squeal
And know that it’s for real
The hour when the ship comes in
Then they’ll raise their hands
Sayin’ we’ll meet all your demands
But we’ll shout from the bow your days are numbered
And like Pharaoh’s tribe
They’ll be drownded in the tide
And like Goliath they’ll be conquered.
…and they will be conquered.
Joel Sucher is a co-founder of Pacific Street Films (together with Steven Fischler) and has written for a number of platforms including American Banker, In These Times, Huffington Post and Observer. com. Currently he’s working on Wells Fargo v Sucher; a memoir of his own travails with Ocwen Servicing and Wells Fargo.