The New York Times reported last week that people over 50, especially widows, are falling into foreclosure faster than any other age group. The reason, in part, is the fine print on mortgages. If the only name on a mortgage is the husband’s, and if a woman survives her husband’s death, she cannot take over the mortgage unless she is up-to-date with the payments. Further, banks will not allow her to negotiate a loan modification, which might solve her financial problems, until her payments are current.
A WWII vet in Florida succeeded in modifying his mortgage, but he died of kidney failure before making his first payment. When his surviving wife sent in the first payment, her bank, HSBC, returned it, because her name was not on the mortgage and she had fallen behind on her payments due to her husband’s illness. HSBC would not comment on this case, except to say, “HSBC has a strong commitment to home preservation and regards foreclosure as a last resort.”
HSBC, as you may remember, is the same institution currently charged with money laundering for drug lords and terrorist groups, along with committing medicare fraud. Normally, such charges would fell most businesses, but when you’re the world’s fifth largest bank, these accusations are little more than a minor inconvenience.
What is most telling about this NY times report, however, is its headline: “Mortgage Catch Pushes Widows Into Foreclosure.” What we apparently have here is a catch, a glitch, a snafu — one of those annoying bits of legalese that creep into mortgage contracts, innocently inserted with the best of intentions, but which occasionally produce unforeseen consequences. In reality, these contracts are entirely one-sided. Of course, the bank’s argument is that it’s our money, if you want to borrow it, you’ll do so on our terms not yours. In a society dominated by money and class privilege their argument makes perfect sense. Yet in a society designed to meet the needs of its members, where markets are run democratically by and for the people (not the other way around), and where class privilege is as antiquated as feudalism, the argument is beyond irrational, it’s pernicious.
This is not to say we should void all contracts between equal parties, just those contracts where the only way you can secure a human right is to sign away your financial future. When you sign a mortgage contract, you agree to lose your home and face financial ruin if you miss two or three payments over a period of 30 years, or if someone in your family dies or becomes gravely ill, or if you’re laid off when the factory where you work moves to China.
But just in case you are not properly saturated in dread after losing your job or your loved one and finding your family evicted and homeless — just in case you are somehow able to salvage a crumb of dignity — our social mores, i.e., those mores inculcated by the mass media (wholly owned by the banks, the corporations, and the privileged) want you to feel and believe it is all your fault and that you ought to feel shame and embarrassment to the depths of your soul.
A society based on such gross injustice is a society we must fight to change.
Housing is a Human Right!
- Dec. 11, Tues., 6:30 – 8:30 PM: Mass Neighborhood Meeting: Lawyers from Northwest Justice Project will give a presentation and answer your questions. Support from other families in foreclosure. Bring your families. Children welcome. Lots of FOOD!!!
- Dec. 14, Fri.: Direct Actions being planned. Updates to follow.
- Dec. 8: Over 50 SeaSol supporters, with 12 SAFE members in attendance, picketed the Admiral Pub in West Seattle. The Admiral Pub has refused to pay Lucio his last pay check of $800 after he was deported to Mexico. The pub’s owner pays his family the check, we stop the picket. He refuses, we continue. Since our picketing will cost the owner much more than $800, it seems he must be refusing to pay based on principle. What principle wage theft falls under is anyone’s guess.
- 7:00 – 8:30 PM, Tuesdays: Organizational Meeting at Bethany UCC. All are welcome! (For this Tuesday’s Neighborhood Meeting we’ll start at 6:30 PM.)
- 2:00 – 4:30 PM, Saturdays: Door-to-Door canvassing. We are making this time a regular weekly event, rain or shine.
- Dec. 4: More than 20 SAFE supporters delivered a letter to Luisa’s and Jorge’s relative Michael Thompson demanding he sign a 3rd-party authorization, which would allow them to negotiate directly with Wells Fargo. Michael Thompson’s name is on the mortgage, and he has said he is willing to sign the authorization, but now refuses to do so leaving Luisa and the eight families that live in her home in a constant state of uncertainty. SAFE has given Michael until Dec. 14 to respond to our letter.
- Dec. 8: Twelve SAFE members postured and knocked on doors of families in foreclosure. SAFE is now canvassing door-to-door, by phone, and by mail.
- Dec. 9: SAFE members conducted our first phone canvass. With the help of Fuse and the Home Defenders League, a computer called underwater homeowners in the Seattle area. About 15 homeowners expressed interest in SAFE.