On a night when local religious leaders challenged state and national politicians and financial institution representatives to play the part of the Good Samaritan and assist their neighbors struggling with foreclosure, Montclair resident Chris Phillips came to the gathering at St. Paul's United Methodist Church organized by Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement to ask for help before he gets evicted from his foreclosed home on Thursday morning.
Phillips, who works in IT, heard about VOICE from Rev. Clyde Ellis at Mount Olive Baptist Church, where he has been playing bass and drums since he moved to Woodbridge several months ago. Phillips had a loan with the Virginia Housing Development Authority. In relocating to Woodbridge, the IT contract he was working on ended, and he was without an income for about four months.
“In the process, I applied for forbearance, and they said at the end of my forbearance, I’d have to do a refile,” he said. “I did the refile and they called me and said my debt to equity was too high. They basically said they were going to foreclose.”
At this point, Phillips had started a new contract, and he currently expects it to go full time in a month.
“They said, ‘Once you get the new job, give us the offer letter, and we’ll use that as part of your plan,’” he said. “When I sent in the offer letter, they didn’t have any information on anything we had talked about, or any previous documentation that we had even had a conversation.”
Phillips now has to be out of his house by Thursday morning at 8 a.m.
“When i got my loan in 2007, I was making less money than I’m making now,” he said. “I even have a job offer for maybe $100,000 that I have proof of right now that would go toward that if they would listen to me. My situation is nobody’s working with me. They just want to foreclose on me regardless of my situation.”
Phillips said he feels more fortunate than many, in that he could afford to get another place if he has to. But he wants to keep his house.
“It affects my credit and it affects my job status,” he said.
Unlike the foreclosure testimonies shared at the Oct. 1 VOICE gathering, Phillips’ story does not yet have a happy ending.
When Bank of America and JP Morgan Chase executives promised that nearly 1,000 PWC, Manassas and Manassas Park homeowners would be eligible for assistance through the $26 billion National Mortgage settlement.
“They committed to negotiate seriously with VOICE,” VOICE strategy team member and Mount Olive Baptist church member Venus Miller said, noting that they had promised a “real plan by October. Well, it is October, and we are here to hear those plans. We will see if their actions match their words.”
A Woodbridge homeowner's last foreclosure notice
Woodbridge resident Kona Sam, a single mother of three, fought to save her home for years.
“I have sent so much paperwork that I can’t even remember it at all,” she said. “This spring, I am proud to say I got my last foreclosure notice.”
But the days leading up to that point were not easy.
“Bank of America told me they were going to sell my house,” she said. “I got in my car and I drove to Legal Services of Northern Virginia.”
Legal Services of Northern Virginia has partnered with VOICE in the past, and provides free legal help to low-income residents in NOVA.
There she met a lawyer named Megan. Together, they applied for a loan modification and the foreclosure was canceled.
“About three months later, I got news I never expected,” she said. “I got a permanent loan modification and I got principal reduction. Bank of America forgave me $260,000 of principal and late fees. My interest went from 8.9 percent to 2.4 percent. My monthly payments went from $2900 to $1223 a month. I could not believe my eyes. I jumped and I screamed.”
Until she worked with Megan, she felt hopeless.
“I felt like I had nowhere to turn,” she said. “But she and housing counselors like her, they keep fighting. We need to keep fighting. There are more families who struggle like me. We all need courage and faith to keep walking. So Bank of America, I turn to you, I am so happy for the action that you have taken to help me and others after all these years. And Megan, I cannot find the words to thank you. You saved my home. You saved my family.”
Some progress, but not enough
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, who arranged for U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan to attend the Oct. 1 VOICE rally, acknowledged that there was much progress to celebrate.
“But there are still too many stories that plague this community,” Warner said in his introduction of Donovan.
Donovan echoed this in his remarks, saying there were 3,000 Kona Sams in Virginia, or 3,000 families that had seen relief averaging about $65,000 per family.
“I am proud of the work that we have done to lift up families and rebuild communities, but I am also mindful of the work we have ahead of us. This isn’t just about reversing the damage that has been done. It’s about making sure that more families don’t have to suffer the way we’ve seen during this crisis.”
Banks will now have to adhere to 300 standards, including requirements like responding quickly and effectively to pleas for help.
“If it’s not working, if folks aren’t living up to these requirements, we need you to help us,” Donovan said. “Go to mortgageoversight.com and report where there are examples of not living up to these commitments.”
Donovan promised to create a Prince William-specific loan sale in their next loan sale.
“All of you have been a defense for the helpless, a defense for the needy in his distress,” Donovan told VOICE, quoting Isaiah 25:4.
Father Gerry Creedon, of Holy Family Catholic Church in Dale City, then asked Donovan to commit to helping homeowners struggling with foreclosures. Donovan promised to lend his top staff to the efforts that VOICE was spearheading, to discuss the use of FHA loans, and to look for public funding to assist these projects.
Rev. Clyde Ellis of Mount Olive Baptist asked Andrew Plepler, the Bank of America Consumer Policy Executive and Global Corporate Social Responsibility, to uphold his commitments, and to set an example for other financial institutions like General Electric and JP Morgan Chase.
Plepler promised that Bank of America would fund housing counselors for another three years, to help homeowners in Prince William get loan modifications and restore their credit. He promised that Bank of America would come up with an action plan by February to help homeowners restore their credit. He also promised that Bank of America would help rebuild neighborhoods by helping to build 2000 affordable homes, by donating $5 million.
Virginia Del. Scott Lingamfelter said that this VOICE rally demonstrated that the people were sovereign, and the elected officials were their servants. VOICE was demonstrating the Constitutional right of the people to petition their government. Lingamfelter and fellow Virginia Del. Richard Anderson promised to try to deliver part of the $7 million in the Virginia Housing Trust to the Prince William County area to help VOICE fund housing counselors. They also promised to bring VHDA into discussions to help homeowners, and reach out to former U.S. Senator George Allen. Finally, Lingamfelter committed to request that VOICE be allowed to brief the Virginia House Appropriations Committee.