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Fighting foreclosures, ACORN defends homeowners

By Jazmyne Young -New America Media- | Last updated: Jul 31, 2009 - 5:25:27 PM

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OAKLAND, Calif. - On the morning of Monday, July 20, Tosha Alberty left her West Oakland Victorian home and headed to work. By evening, she and her family had become homeless.

Alberty has lived at the edge of the Acorn district since 2005, but she is one of many families in the region slapped with foreclosure because of subprime mortgages.

For two years, Alberty struggled financially but was still able to make her monthly scheduled payment of $2,800. But then the interest rate on her loan reset and she was facing an impossible $1,000 monthly increase.

Alberty's mortgage lender is First Franklin Home Loan, a San Jose-based company. When Alberty contacted First Franklin to discuss her problems and get help modifying the terms of her loan, she says a representative informed her that she did not qualify for assistance because she was still able to make her scheduled payments.

“When I stopped making the payments, I had every excuse in the world,” said Alberty. Still, she was still denied assistance. After ceasing to make her monthly mortgage payments, her home was put into foreclosure.

Alberty is not the first homeowner to experience difficulty with First Franklin Home Loan, a company that specialized in subprime loans. In 2008, a survey by the consumer advocacy group California Reinvestment Coalition (CRC), conducted surveys of homeowner assistance organizations aiding those at risk of foreclosure. The surveys asked which loan service companies were particularly uncooperative in helping distresses homeowners. First Franklin Home Loan and its affiliates were mentioned multiple times, according to CRC associate director Kevin Stein. “It was kind of a five-way tie for first or for last,” he said, “depending on how you look at it.”

The Better Business Bureau has also received numerous complaints about First Franklin and its lending services in the last two years. A search of federal court dockets also revealed First Franklin and its related company, Home Loan Services, is a defendant in more than 40 lawsuits filed since April 2007.

The most recent lawsuit was filed July 17 in Fresno federal district court in a foreclosure action, and the suit alleges breach of contract.

First Franklin should be willing to aid homeowners. It is one of 10 listed loan servicers that signed onto Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's “California Subprime Loan Agreement,” enacted in fall 2007. The agreement states that homeowners who risked falling behind when their rates were set to increase could qualify for assistance including allowing them to maintain the lower fixed rates, providing that they have made all their scheduled payments on time. Subprime lenders that signed on agreed to reach out and help such lenders, such as Alberty. But in her case, the company did not fulfill the state agreement's principles.

First Franklin did not return several calls requesting comment.

After hearing news of Alberty's situation, a neighbor referred her to the local organization ACORN, where she joined its Home Defenders group. “We fight for people to stay families, and to stay in their homes,” said Home Defender vice president Martha Daniels. Daniels became involved with ACORN back in February, when her home was endangered by what she also describes as predatory lending.

The Home Defenders have literally defended the homes of West Oakland residents, by rallying its 50-plus members to gather at homes of families who are in the process of being evicted. Sometimes the organization even helps families re-enter their homes after being evicted. “ACORN has successfully been working with people for many years,” said Daniels. “We have successfully won (for) many defenders.”

Even with the successful efforts of ACORN's home defense tactics, though, Alberty's home was seized early on July 20 by the Alameda County sheriff. She, her four children and two young grandchildren were left homeless.

“They came out without my knowledge and evicted my children (when) I was at work,” said a distraught Alberty, who claimed she was not given notice prior to the eviction. Alberty got word at work of what was happening and rushed home to see if her children were safe. “(The sheriff's department) didn't even say who they were,” she said. “My kids thought someone was breaking in. My daughter was undressed, and my son said that when he got to the door one of the sheriffs had his hand on the holster.”

Daniels arrived to the Alberty home shortly after the sheriff's department left. With the support of ACORN, Alberty turned to City Councilwoman Nancy Nadel for help. In an emailed statement, Nadel said she tried to reach First Franklin: “We called the bank together and spoke to a representative who was not responsive to our concerns. He then offered to transfer us to someone who deals with problems. However, he transferred us to a phone which no one answered, and we wound up with a message tape.”

ACORN held a press conference and rally in front of Alberty's home to highlight her plight and the problem of foreclosures in the community. A representative from City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan's office said she was also trying to reach First Franklin to work out a remedy, but was having little success.

Daniels is confident that Alberty's home can still be saved, “Because this was an emergency situation, we aren't sure about our next steps,” she said, “(but) we will fight for Tosha.” An ACORN representative said that they were in negotiations with the bank.

Alberty remained in a state of disbelief. “I just became homeless,” she said. “(Last night) I went to sleep, woke up, went to work and the same morning, I'm homeless.” She is looking to the government for answers, questioning the effectiveness of President Obama's foreclosure prevention program plan to aid American families such as hers.

“I qualify for the Obama loan,” she said. “Why am I not getting the help?”

Jazmyne Young is a content producer at YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia.