DETROIT – On Tuesday, a Detroit couple was on the verge of being evicted from their home of 22 years, before they were allowed to stay thanks to help from local advocacy groups including Occupy Detroit. The family is allowed to stay after a year of wrangling over the home’s foreclosure.
William and Bertha Garrett have lived in their home on Pierson Street on Detroit’s northwest side since 1990 and had been making consistent mortgage payments for years before a botched laser surgery rendered William blind in one eye and cost him half of his income. After a second surgery in 2003 left William legally blind, the family began to struggle with mortgage payments.
“My parents’ mentality is, ‘My daughter got married there, my two sons got married there, babies have been born here, this is not just a house,’” Michele Finley, the Garretts’ daughter told the Huffington Post. “This is our life.”
WATCH THE GARRETTS SPEAK ABOUT THEIR PLIGHT:
Finley said that the trustee, the Bank of New York Mellon Trust, began to tack on fees and her parents tripled their mortgage payments just to keep up. Her husband eventually bought the home from her parents, bringing the monthly mortgage payments down from $3,000 per month to just $900.
William’s health continued to suffer and the Garretts once again fell behind, while the mortgage company steadily increased the rate until it reached $2,500. Finley, who had been helping her parents make the payments, was laid off of her job in 2010.
The Garretts received a foreclosure notice last year and met with the bank numerous times. In October, the Garretts received a verbal agreement from the bank saying they could buy the home back for $10,000.
However, when the Garretts produced the $10,000, the bank refused to let them buy the house. Instead, the bank repeatedly changed its offer, first raising the price to $12,000 and eventually $15,000.
“The money is sitting in the bank,” Finley said. “The entire family chipped in to gather the necessary cash. We fought, we fought, we fought, and we couldn’t stop the foreclosure.”
She also said they were never given a reason why they were not allowed to buy back the house. Two weeks after the family’s request was denied, William suffered a stroke.
A spokesman for Bank of New York Mellon Trust said that the mortgage servicer, IA Services, is responsible for the home on Pierson. They offered no further comment.
Detroit has the 18th highest foreclosure rate in the country.
This year, according to Realty Trac, Detroit is expected to have nearly 60,000 foreclosed properties.
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