Stories of Struggle. Foreclosure and Eviction in Chicago

[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #13 in April 2013]

On August 9, 2012, Communities United Against Foreclosure and Eviction (CUAFE), the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign , and the Centro Autónomo of Albany Park  held a joint meeting to demand a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions. Chicagoans affected by the foreclosure and eviction crisis— both owners and renters, including public housing residents—testified to their experiences amidst an intensely charged atmosphere, with enthusiastic shouts and chants of solidarity.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart  and all 18 Cook County Commissioners were invited to attend. Board President Toni Preckwinkle , Commissioner Chuy Garcia  and Tom Dart were the only ones to show up.

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor  of Communities United opened the meeting by describing the “worsening impact of this foreclosure crisis, a crisis that has been fueled by greed, economic and racial injustice…[and is] threatening to unravel communities and neighborhoods across the city.” She cited a few statistics: in June and July 7,500 properties began foreclosure proceedings, 37% higher than in 2011. In 2011 alone, more than 118,000 homes went into foreclosure. The economic crisis has hit Black and Latino neighborhoods especially hard. In Chicago, 32% of African Americans and 23% of Latinos live in poverty. Half of the homes in Black and Latino communities are underwater, and a disproportionate number of foreclosures and evictions are occurring in African-American and Latino neighborhoods, because these are the neighborhoods that were targeted by the banks. 24 of 25 Chicago community areas facing housing instability are in Black and Latino areas. Banks that have taken over rental properties are regularly flouting the laws designed to protect tenants. Finally, the quantity of publicly subsidized housing made available to low-income Chicagoans has been radically reduced while public housing units sit empty. These factors, Taylor noted, have “led to what can only be described as a housing catastrophe in this city.”

The three groups’ demands, articulated by Toussaint Losier , were as follows:

  1. that all elected officials, Toni Preckwinkle, the various different Cook County commissioners, Anita Alvarez  and Tom Dart do community tours to see for themselves the consequences of the housing crisis
  2. a one-year moratorium on foreclosures and evictions
  3. that the elected officials agree to participate in a task force with community organizations and other stakeholders to work with us to get that moratorium as soon as possible.

Community members’ testimonies have been collected, transcribed, and edited here from video shot by Jacob Klippenstein . Transcription by Anne Dodge , Mohamed Mehdi , and Nyki Salinas-Duda . Editing by Jacob Klippenstein, Simon Swartzman , and Rebecca Zorach .

Merlene Robinson-Parsons

Mr. Dart and Ms. Preckwinkle, my name is Merlene Robinson Parsons and I have been a resident of Northpoint Apartments [a Section 8 apartment complex] for 29 years. My fight with Northpoint is my husband moved out in May and Northpoint has refused to adjust my rent to my income. Northpoint took me to court and because I didn’t have a lawyer my case was over in 3 minutes.

Now, I’m facing eviction. If I’m evicted I lose custody of my great niece whom I’ve had for 2 years after she saw her 10 month old sister drown in a bathtub. If I become homeless she goes to the state, Sheriff Dart!

We need this moratorium not only for myself but for families whose kids will become a ward of the state because we can’t afford market rent because we are losing our lowincome apartments. My baby, my niece, says this is “our house” and I intend to fight for it—our house.

 Maria Dolores

Thank you, good evening everybody, gracias a todos. This is my house, and I’m going to stay in my house. I’ve got this house for thirteen years, and I’ve tried to get a modification from the bank. But their lawyers are so bad with me and with everybody who wants to get a modification. I want to say and to ask the sheriff, to please, consider those of us with problems. Thank you so much to CUAFE and to Anti-Eviction Campaign, who opened my eyes, and taught me how to fight and how to stay in my house. A long time ago, I suffered a very bad situation, we lost a house, we moved to Texas, and over there the lawyers tricked us, and the police took our house because we weren’t from the state. When we came back to Chicago, one of my sons went out on the streets. My other son left school, me and my ex-husband had a lot of problems. And now I am divorced from him. I want to advocate, please, no foreclosures for me or for anybody. Now I want to stay in my house, I want my grandchildren to grow up in a safety place. I’m a good neighbor. My neighbors have known me for 40 years. I’m working and fighting to pay for my house.

Now I am a teacher and a director of a daycare center and I see how the children come with aggressive behavior and depression. And the children come and tell us, about the situation in the house, how the families fight, between the father and mother, because they are losing their house, they don’t have the money to pay the mortgage, it’s very sad. I invite everybody, Tom, to witness how there are so many problems with the children. How many children develop aggressive behavior and depression? It’s very sad. I’m not lying, come and see. It’s very sad when you hear children saying, “Oh, my mom was crying, my daddy was angry. He hit her because my mom wants more money. My mom has no money to pay the mortgage.” It’s true.

I’m not moving, I’m going to stay.

Gloria Harris

I’ve been in foreclosure for five years. Five years I’ve been going through this. I fought for five years. I’ll fight for five more. These people working for the bank have the knowledge and right to save my loan. They have the loan to the house. One thing I did do is start fighting back. They told me to redo some of my paperwork for the court, and I redone it. It’s been like over a year, and they didn’t come back to court. They have filed false documents for over five years, but nobody is answering the question about why they are allowed to do this. First of all, if they had what it takes to take my house, they would have took it the first year. Why do they have the right? They claimed that they had the assignment to my property, and I come to find out it was an illegal document. Why are they still in court? If I had brought one illegal document into that courtroom, I’d have been in jail. Why are they allowed to keep coming to court? Taking me to court year after year. And then, they gave me a modification, and I paid that modification for ten months, and in ten months they came up with, “Oh, that wasn’t a modification, here’s your money back.” What? I’m like, what is that all about? The second thing was, once they stopped the modification, then they went back to court to get me out, and the judge said to redo my answer. Well, I redone it. You’d think they’d come right back to court, no? They said they’d come back October 2. But they was allowed all this time, to go falsify some more documents. When is the court going to say, “Look, you either come here with what you’re supposed to have, or get out.” Let me tell you what. Fight, don’t just give them your house, make them show they own it…if they ain’t got the right documents then go to court. We have a right as humans…we’re the ones that elect these people to these positions. Us, the people that put them in these positions…Tom Dart, my case is one of the cases in this system that really needs to be looked at. I know the whole problem from day one: paying a million dollars for a $267,000 loan. Is that the way that’s supposed to go? You need to look at this, I need to set up an appointment with you so you can see where I’m coming from.

  • Since this meeting, Ms. Harris went to court on December 11. The judge stated that her case has been in the court too long, and he granted the plaintiff a summary judgement. Ms. Harris stated that they got a summary judgement already in 2009, and, despite the evidence throughout the case, the judge said, “Well, I’m giving it again.” She will appeal the decision, and take other actions with her neighbors and CUAFE.

Virginia Morales

My parents Eliceo and Lilia Morales Martinez and their family have lived in our house for 27 years. We are one more Latino family facing foreclosure in the Hermosa community. My five-year-old son Daniel asked me, “Where are we gonna live if we lose the house? Will I still go to the same school?” These are the questions that I ask myself. Those of you who are not in foreclosure can you for one moment imagine how devastating and frustrating it is to be going through this?

My parents were pre-qualified for a mortgage with [our bank]* in September 2009 verbally, not in writing. They were given a trial period and they had to make three payments in the amount of $1059.52. They were going to decide whether or not they qualified for a modification.

[Our bank] accepted payments beyond the agreement. They accepted transferred total of 11 months. All of the payments were made on time. However the modification was denied because of missing documents.

On February 2011 [our bank] decided to start the foreclosure process. However a second attempt from us was made on October 2011. Each time I received emails about documents they needed from us. I went out and faxed or emailed the documents to them. However in February 2012, the modification was denied due to missing documents. We were told to wait for three months and reapply all over again. How many times do people have to apply for a loan modification? How many times? Homeowners are being made to go through the loan modification process while the bank starts an auction of the home at the same time.

My parents have asked for a good faith negotiation. My parents applied once again for a loan modification on May of this year. After being ignored for a month we heard from them. But now it’s August and we’re still waiting for a response. While going canvassing around my neighborhood along with other members of CUAFE we came across homeowners indicating the same story my parents are going through. Banks are totally ignoring families. They claim they don’t receive documents, they don’t receive faxes. And it’s weird because they never answer the phone, they don’t return phone calls at all. They don’t care about communities that are being destroyed by having empty houses. It is frustrating and devastating to see banks rather have the house demolished instead of helping those people with problems in the housing crisis.

It’s time to wake up and realize that this only leads to homelessness here in Cook County. We need a moratorium, since loan modifications are not working for most people, as well as for certain government programs. Other procedures have to be taken such as a modest refinance program and principal reduction and interest.

This would really be beneficial for everyone going through the housing crisis but also for banks regardless of who is responsible for this happening, the damage is done and now we have to look for a solution. This is why we need a one-year moratorium. The Morales-Martinez family will not leave our house.

  • By fighting alongside their neighbors and allies, the Morales Family has won a mediation with the bank. They have decided not to print the name of their bank while these negotiations are going forward.

Vicente Gutierrez

I live at 5111 North Avers. I have lived in this house for 22 years. I was in this house for 18 years. I’ve got four years with problems. I’ve got health problems. The reason why I have problems is because I work very hard. So that I can start this home, because I bought a very old home that was more than a hundred years old. I put all my savings into this house and now the bank wants to sell it for half of what I owe on the loan. I think that this is unjust. The only thing I am asking for is that they give me a little bit of time so I can reestablish myself. But I think that doesn’t interest the bank!

A neighbor of mine who had invested $50,000 in their house, they took their house away and they knocked it down. I think these actions aren’t just, because the people who come to fight and work for a dream, for their families, and they are the ones who have been hit hard ever since the recession hit. A lot of people have tried to lift up their homes, and the banks have got the money from the insurance that the people paid on their homes, and they keep on continuing to be owners of the homes, and they don’t let us do anything. And the only thing we’re asking for is that we can live in our homes on which we have paid.

 Marcia Iza

I want to share with you the history of why I am losing my home. I am a victim of domestic abuse and at the same time a victim of abuse from the bank. I’m sick of that. We’re gonna survive the abuse of the banks today. It all started when my husband stopped paying the mortgage on the house. And immediately I contacted Wells Fargo to take this up. The bank said we don’t need to talk to you, you’re not on the loan. I explained to them I am on the title, but they didn’t want to listen to me. Nevertheless, I’ve tried all the alternatives that I thought possible and nothing, nothing was heard. Finally, I found Centro Aut.nomo, and they’ve been my head, they’ve been my support, they’ve been my savior.

We did a protest in front of Wells Fargo, and thanks to that we were able to talk to the executives at Fannie Mae and Wells Fargo. The banks said, and they gave me an offer to sell the house to me but at a price that’s triple what the house is worth right now. The abuse continues, it doesn’t stop. And I said that I’m not okay with this, and I’m not going to take it anymore. And they’re continuing with the eviction, I don’t know where I am going. I want to conclude by saying, I got a card saying that I have 90 days left in the house. Where am I going to go? I am demanding a one-year moratorium. Se.or Dart, where should I go? Where should I go?

 Silvia Baca

In 2010, I had an order of eviction. We went to court, that was on November 4th. I want to say thank you to God because I found two people that animated me to fight, Chris Poulos and Rory Fanning. They asked if I wanted to continue to fight for my home. And I said if there was a way, yes. For this, I made the decision to stay in my home. I said I’m not going anywhere. Thanks to the support of Univision, Telemundo and other television stations. When we asked for a moratorium, in that time period he did it. The moratorium was for two months, and if we did it that time, we can do it now. Now my daughter is going to say something important that happened during the time period of the foreclosure.

 Yesenia Tellez

My mom cannot speak about this because she has a signed contract with the bank. My name is Yesenia Tellez, and it doesn’t say anything about me not being able to talk. We were supposed to leave our house, but we never did. We stood and fought. A lot of TV outlets came to her house and did interviews.

January the 13th, HSBC called my mom and said that they wanted to work something out with her because she was making too much commotion and making them look bad. My mom told them that she didn’t want to speak to them anymore, that they needed to contact her lawyers. When they started making paperwork for us to keep our house, at first they wanted to sell our house close to the original price that we had bought it for, which was $429,000 when it was really worth $100,000. And my mom turned down that proposal, and after that, in July 2011, we won our house back, for less than what we bought it for. All I wanted to say is don’t leave, stay in your house, fight.

Patricia Hill

Good evening, Cook County Board President Preckwinkle and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, and to all the people of the City of Chicago.

My name is Patricia Hill and in 2009, Saxon Mortgage, the mortgage service served from New York Mellon Bank, sent me a mortgage payment informing me that my new monthly mortgage payment would be increased by $500 per month.

Upon making a telephone inquiry to Saxon, I was told I did not have homeowner’s insurance on my residence where I had been residing for fifteen years. On that same day, after including my insurance agent and a second representative on a conference call, we were told the matter had been rectified. However, for the subsequent three months, the payment requested from Saxon continued to reflect the $500 increase. I continued to make calls to Saxon and continued to send them my regular payment.

After the third payment, Saxon returned my check and informed me that I was delinquent because I did not include the $500 amount in my payment per month. The representative informed me that I would have to pay an additional $5,000-$7,000 lump sum payment to become current on my mortgage. I contacted Housing and Urban Development (HUD), although I have a conventional 30 year mortgage. I thought at that time that this was the agency to contact. HUD informed me that due to the fact that I had a private mortgage, they could not help me, but did put me in contact with the Affordable Housing Center of America to request a loan modification.

After meeting the criteria for the loan modification, my counselor, Lucy submitted my request for a modification. After six months, Saxon denied that request. However, they directed me to make a direct request, in house, from Saxon, for the modification. After approximately another 3–6 months, they denied my request again, citing insufficient income. I had been paying my mortgage for fifteen years.

Subsequently, after being denied, I attempted to make contact with Saxon to ascertain why I was denied. All of my attempts were futile. In July of 2011, I was contacted in person by an individual representing Chicago Realty Partners who was the REO [real estate owned] for Saxon, who knocked on my door, checking whether or not the property was occupied.  ior to that contact, I had no knowledge of the property being foreclosed. He informed me that the property had been sold. It was later determined that my daughter, who has diminished mental capacity, had been served, not I. In August of 2011, I received notice of a court appearance pertaining to the sale, at which time Judge Sullivan  approved the sale and gave me 75 days to vacate the premises.

I immediately contacted all of my political representatives via letter seeking assistance in this matter: Attorney General Lisa Madigan ’s office, my alderman in the 3rd Ward, and State Representative Ken Dunkin  and the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, that provided me with continuing informational resources to date. I began a process with the Chicago Realty Partners to repurchase my home. Within a three month period of negotiating in what I believed to be good faith, after an appraisal was conducted by Chicago Realty Partners president, Arthur Cirignani , in communicating via email, Cook County Sheriffs executed an eviction, in March of 2012 in my residence of 17 years. As things currently stand, I remain in my home, having never relinquished possession. My tenant filed an order in court stating that the eviction was unlawful and that they were not notified. In July 2012, a judge hearing the case struck the case from call. I support the demand for a one year moratorium in the County of Cook. The bank that originally owned the loan on my property has subsequently sold it to another bank, and the servicer Saxon has gone out of business. The REO of Chicago Realty Partners who was assigned by Saxon formally withdrew any and all interest in the property where I reside.

 Kim Scardina

In 2011, 4,477 apartment buildings went into foreclosure, affecting 13,814 residents. I’m a single parent starting my first year of law school in the fall. I’ve lived in the Logan Square community for over ten years. Currently, I’m a tenant in a foreclosed building. The process is extremely stressful. I’ve lived in this building for four years, my aunts and my cousins live in the building, as well. We’re three generations of single women striving to better our children’s futures. We do not want to separate and relocate. Crime statistics for 2012 show in Chicago 28,415 violent crimes and 120,000 property crimes, and the year isn’t over. Protecting our neighborhoods is not just a responsibility of the police; it’s a responsibility of the tenants, the residents, the homeowners, and everyone in the community.

Neighbor alliances form a safety net for children. In doing my research for this piece, I gathered information from the Chicago Crime Commission and Cook County Sheriff ’s website and learned that in our district, there were no burglaries or robberies on my block, however there were two criminal trespasses and unlawful entries to abandoned, vacant buildings. We need to stop giving the banks power to destroy our neighborhoods. This moratorium will hold banks accountable for their part in destroying our neighborhoods. The building next door to us sold for $41,000 in a foreclosure auction and the investor resold it for $350,000. We are gathering resources to purchase the property we live in. A one-year moratorium will give us time to negotiate with the banks.

We learned that it takes a village to raise a child, and the banks are destroying our villages. Everyone in the neighborhood are mothers, sisters, community leaders, constituents, and we have the human right to housing. I demand that our elected officials give the people a one year moratorium on evictions. And we’re not  moving, we’re staying, we’re fighting.

Patricia Scardina

I’ve lived and worked and raised a family and grandchildren in Logan Square for the past thirty years. I am a preschool teacher and on unemployment. I am facing eviction. The statistic on unemployment is 9.8 in the City of Chicago. I’m scared and I’m scared for my family.

I grew up on Halsted and North Avenue, which is Lincoln Park now, during the ‘60s through the ‘80s. My family got pushed out by what was called urban renewal with the promise of us getting a better life. This is how I moved to Logan Square over thirty years ago. In 1974, I was in the first group of 18-year olds allowed to vote legally. I exercised my right and I believed in democracy. I started campaigning for the then-Cook County Board George Dunne and the up and coming young Jesse White. Jesse White used to visit my home as a young child, many, many times. So I believed in democracy. I believed that then and I believe that now. I believe as elected officials, you represent the people, the people who put you in office. I demand a one-year moratorium on foreclosures and evictions in the county. If government can bail out failing banks, so can our Constitution bailout us.

I left my childhood home so many years ago, I go back and revisit—it’s not the same. It’s “yuppie-fied.” It doesn’t have that home feeling no more, but you know what, Logan Square has that feeling. And I’m not leaving, I’m staying, I’m fighting.

 John Newman

I want to start off by saying “semper fi” to everybody. For those who don’t know what that means, it means always faithful. I was in the United States Marine Corps and served this country and did this country a great justice. I’m speaking on behalf of myself, of other Marines, other veterans out there. If you was in the military, you served, I want this to be for you, as well. I want everybody to know that when Ms. Pat Hill was up here and she spoke about her tenant, I’m that tenant that she was speaking about. After serving my country, I came back here, got a job working with the state, part-time as a Snowbird, going out there removing snow on their highways for their state. I come home one day. And the people is moving my furniture out of my home. Yes, don’t look like that, that’s true. In the wintertime. I did not get no eviction notice, I don’t know what’s going on, and when I went to court, you ain’t going to believe what they told me. I didn’t exist there. So, it’s plain and simple: Pat’s not leaving, I’m not leaving.

Marine veterans, veterans alike, all veterans fought for this country. If we didn’t fight for this country, the banks wouldn’t be able to put us out like they’re doing here.

 Victoria Rivera

Statistics show that frequent moves make students 50 percent less likely to graduate. Uprooting students from their schools causes negative social and academic behavior. My name is Victoria Rivera and I’m a criminal justice student and a single mother of four. I was born and raised in the Logan Square area and I’m currently living in a foreclosed building, facing eviction. As soon as the foreclosure process started, the property owner disappeared, leaving me responsible for heating and electrical utilities. Why should other people’s financial struggles affect my children’s future? Children are the invisible and unheard victims of foreclosure and eviction. A one-year moratorium will create a stable environment for our children to live in. After all, children are the future. So Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Superintendent McCarthy attribute the crime in our neighborhood to gangs and drugs. When the [solution to the] problem starts in the household with stability and positive role models and a tight-knit community. As a people we demand a one-year moratorium from you, our elected officials to help save our children’s stability and future. I’m fighting for what I believe in, and continue to fight to give my children a positive role model and I am not leaving.

 Keosha Cummings

I’m the daughter of Sabrina Morey. We are now renters in a foreclosed house. We have been there almost a year. We have been fixing a lot. We kept the water and the light on. It took me one month to know everybody on my street. I’ve been helping people these past few months that are facing evictions because they helped us when we were getting evicted and going to be homeless. But thanks to my mom she fought for us. It worries me because people are going to get put out on the street with their families. Kids worry about things more than adults may know. Some important things for you to know is that kids are dropping out because they have to keep changing schools and are depressed. Sheriff Dart, how would you like it if I came to your house and told you and your children you have to leave? Wouldn’t you like some help? Sheriff Dart and President Preckwinkle, can you please start a moratorium on eviction?

 Tom Dart Responded

I’ve seen the injustice, I’ve seen what’s going on out there. We have made some progress. But I would be lying to you if I said all of these are easy cases. They have very, very well-paid lawyers. And whenever we would show up at the door to interview people who were involved with the forgeries, they would have very wellpaid lawyers sitting next to them explaining that their client’s rights are such, they don’t need to talk to us. And so it makes it harder for me to get the case together. But we have not given up in pursuing those things. But the point I’ve been trying to make to people: if you do have people who are committing any type of offense, if there’s people committing fraud on you, if there’s people committing illegalities, you need to call my office. We will open up a case within seconds. And they do have a tendency to listen to me a little more than other people at times. ◊

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