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David and Goliath on Bishop Street

Foreclosure fight takes it to the banks and servicers ... and wins

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Published 9/16/2009

Two guys with a truck got Belva Davis into her three-bedroom bungalow on Bishop Street in Detroit's East English Village back in 2003.

On Saturday, 125 or so folks — neighbors, anti-foreclosure activists, politicians and others — gathered outside her house in an effort to keep her there.

Davis' neighbors talked about what brought them to a diverse, stable community — and their fears that foreclosures will undo it. They chastised Wells Fargo Bank (which wrote the original mortgage) and Ocwen Financial (the mortgage servicer) for taking in billions and millions, respectively, from the government's mortgage modification program. The same companies, they said, are stonewalling rather than negotiating with her.

"Wow," said Davis, when it was her turn with the microphone. "I'm just one little person, and sometimes I feel like I'm fighting Goliath."

According to Davis and her attorney, Jerry Goldberg, a prominent anti-foreclosure activist, Davis lost a well paying job, and in 2008 worked two low-paying jobs to get by — while falling behind on her mortgage. When she got a better paying job as a census supervisor, she asked to work out a deal.

"They told her, 'Give us $19,000 upfront, and then we'll start talking to you,'" said Goldberg, a neighbor on Bishop Street. "And then they put her house into eviction, and that's when I entered the case. We've been fighting since December and we're determined to make sure [eviction] never happens."

Davis and Goldberg's position is that under the HAMP — the Home Affordable Modification Program, the Obama administration effort to keep homeowners out of foreclosure — the $19,000 arrearage can be added to the back end of the mortgage, and Davis is willing to pay an admittedly inflated price for the home ($160,000; she bought the house for $110,000 on a subprime mortgage) as long as the mortgage payments with taxes and insurance don't top 31 percent of income, per program guidelines.

"We know houses aren't worth that right now," Davis told her supporters, referring to the $160,000. ("The house next to my house sold for $18,000, and we paid a lot more, we paid $150,000 for ours," shouted one neighbor to murmured assents through the crowd.)

"And I know if I leave, the value of my neighbors' houses will go down too, and I don't want that to happen," said Davis. She recounted what "we all know" can follow eviction: vacancy, vandalism and a plea to have the city knock down one more abandoned house.

Bill Barlage, head of the neighborhood association, had a term for this: "residential terrorism."

"What's different here," he said, "is that there's a face, someone who is trying to stay here, someone who didn't pack the U-Haul ... and wave at me as they drove out of the neighborhood."

Detroit City Council members Alberta Tinsley-Talabi and Kwame Kenyatta delivered a council resolution of support; state Rep. Martha Scott, a representative of U.S. Rep. John Conyers' office and several City Council candidates were also on hand.

The people gathered at Davis' house on Saturday are far from alone in criticizing lenders, servicers and the government's loan modification program.

In July, mortgage-servicing execs were called before Treasury Department officials, who were displeased that 200,000 modifications were under way in a program intended to help 4 million mortgage holders. An Associated Press investigation concluded that billions in spending to help homeowners avoid foreclosure "are passing through — and enriching — companies accused of preying on people they're supposed to be helping." The Center for Public Integrity slammed banks and servicers, noting that Ocwen is to receive $553 million for modifications — while facing approximately 64 lawsuits claiming "abusive collection practices."

A phone call and e-mail seeking comment from Ocwen were not returned (although the receptionist who took the call noted that a number of people have been phoning to voice their support for Davis). But the pressure might be working: On Tuesday morning, Davis said she had received a voice message from Ocwen, suggesting that something might be worked out after all.

Meanwhile, Belva's supporters have set up a website (nbrigham.org/belva). And they plan on taking their next protest (Sept. 29) from Belva's lawn to Wachovia Securities — an arm of Wells Fargo — on Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Farms

News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com.

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