Graham, who lives in Big Bear City, Calif., applied for a loan modification under the Obama administration’s Home Affordable Modification Program, which is supposed to give eligible borrowers a “permanent” five-year modification if they make reduced payments during a three-month trial period.
Graham said his trial dragged on for 18 months. He said he made every payment until Bank of America told him in May that he didn’t qualify for HAMP, and that he’d lose his home unless he paid about $7,000 to make up the difference between his normal monthly payments and the reduced payments he made during the trial period.
“Each month when I did talk to them I was informed it’s still under review.”
B of A is already facing a racketeering lawsuit, but that’s for using perjured affidavits on foreclosure proceedings. It seems like Holder would have a slam/dunk case if he would also bring suit for the kind of thievery Bank of America has foisted on the Boehms and thousands like them.
And Attorney General Chris Koster could beat Holder to it if he’d bring suit here in Missouri.
The photos below are from last week’s action outside Bank of America in Clayton: one sign, a group of activists, and one activist in the making.
Bank of America is a master of the “string them along/stonewall them” technique that we’re seeing skillfully applied to Mike and Mary Boehm. The Boehms are so frustrated that they are beginning to wonder if the bank’s managers have read Catch-22 and instructed middle managers to follow Sergeant Towser’s example in that book.
In the World War II saga, Major Major was determined to avoid any contact with people plaguing him for favors–or indeed with anybody at all. So he summoned his aide:
“From now on,” he said, “I don’t want anyone to come in to see me while I’m here. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir,” said Sergeant Towser. “Does that include me?”
“I see. Will that be all?”
“What shall I say to the people who come to see you while you’re here?”
“Tell them I’m in, and ask them to wait.”
“Yes, sir. For how long?”
“Until I’ve left.”
“And then what shall I do with them.”
“I don’t care.”
“May I send them in to see you after you’ve left?”
“But you won’t be here then, will you?”
“Will that be all.”
And Sergeant Towser had no problem following those orders and leaving befuddled, frustrated supplicants standing in the major’s empty office, wondering if a cruel practical joke was being played on them. The Boehms can identify with their bewilderment.
When I spoke to Mary last Wednesday, she reported that someone from the Bank of America had left a phone message Monday night saying that the bank would be negotiating another mortgage with them. Then he failed to return phone calls. I spoke to Mary today, and she said that he finally did get back to them Wednesday evening and gave them the name and phone number of a negotiator, Elizabeth Gomez, who returned their calls on Thursday.
But Ms. Gomez claimed that there was no record in their file of an intent to foreclose. Odd, considering that the Boehm’s possessed a letter from Bad for America listing December 26th as the date that foreclosure proceedings would begin. Gomez was puzzled, furthermore, to find no paperwork in their file saying that they owed late fees–which is also odd, considering how the bank has been badgering the Boehms for those fees. Sergeant Towser Gomez promised to check on those issues and call them the next morning, December 24th. Would they mind, she asked, being bothered on Christmas eve, about this matter? (Never let it be said that paper shufflers at B of A have no sense of humor.) After Mike and Mary assured her, nay, urged her to call on Friday, Gomez said she would phone them at 11:00 sharp, which is 9:00 in her time zone, opening time.
11:00 Friday came and went. Nothing.
It’s more than five days since the promised call, and the Boehms are standing in Major Major’s empty office.
Meanwhile Mike and Mary are pursuing every avenue they can think of to persuade Chris Koster to pressure the bank to modify their mortgage and even to bring suit against Bank of America, as Arizona and Nevada have, for its foreclosure practices. They are contacting their elected officials to plead their case with the Attorney General.
I put in my two cents this afternoon, talking to Chris and Nancy in Koster’s office. They’ve had no reply from Bank of America to their letter of inquiry about the Boehms’ situation. I asked if Koster will consider bringing suit. Nancy says she “will check.” I didn’t exactly expect to hear positive news on that front yet. I’m prepared to be persistent.
So are the Boehms. Mary is determinedly upbeat. Hey, she even offered to describe the decor in Major Major’s office for me. If anybody can pin down that elusive son of a gun, it will be the Boehms.
Bank of America is looking into negotiating another mortgage with Mike and Mary Boehm. Well, so their representative said in a phone message. Monday night. But he hasn’t returned any of the three messages the Boehm’s have left for him since then. So far, that phone message and reports given to the Post-Dispatch and KMOV-tv that the Boehms are in no imminent danger of foreclosure are, at the very least, unverified.
We hope these claims are more than just an attempt from B of A to shunt aside nuisance publicity until the media spotlight ricochets to some other story. The Boehms would like to think that the assurances have some substance, but the family was not reassured on that score by today’s mail. Mike and Mary had printed a request for 13 items pertaining to the loan off of Attorney General Koster’s site and sent it to Bad for America. Today the family received a letter from the bank that included three of those pieces of documentation but that said: “Please note that all other requests are declined as they seek documentation that goes beyond that which is available.”
Translated loosely, that means, ‘We’ll give you what we damn well find convenient.’ Not the spirit of cooperation the Boehms are looking for. Yes, I realize that this is probably something the bank’s bureaucracy churned out before the action on Monday, but here’s the thing. The letter went out. The phone message was left on the machine. But nobody at the bank seems to be engaged in settling this problem. It will take continued pressure from activists to move Bank of America to let the Boehms off the hook.
Meanwhile, I’ve spoken to two women in Attorney General Koster’s office. This entire brouhaha was news to the first one, Chris. But someone named Nancy called me back a couple of hours later to say that the office has called Bank of America about the Boehms and has not yet received a return call. Good on them for that prompt action. I asked Nancy if the AG’s office has legal authority to press a case against B of A for disobeying the federal mandate to modify mortgages for qualified applicants. She’ll check. And I asked whether Chris Koster will consider taking such action on behalf of the many complainants against B of A. She’ll check.
Koster’s office needs to hear from you. 1-573-751-3321
Now, the bank has been accused of breaking into a woman’s home and taking her possessions, including her late husband’s ashes.
That incident is part of a pattern of home break-ins reported by other homeowners, according to a New York Times article. The piece describes a typical Bank of America subterfuge that the Boehms will recognize:
“Every day, smaller wrongs happen to people trying to save their homes: being charged the wrong amount of money, being wrongly denied a loan modification, being asked to hand over documents four or five times,” said Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.
Sounds like what I described happening to the Boehms:
They spent hours upon hours on the phone trying to straighten out glitch after snafu after hitch caused by the bank’s carelessness. “You faxed us this information already? Really? Then do it again. You’ve faxed it twice? Oh. Try faxing it to this other number.”
It’s gotten so that it’s easier to have faith in Santa than to believe that Bank of America can be trusted.
Mike and Mary Boehm did everything right. Well, except for Mike getting fired in June 2009. But I’m assuming that was a byproduct of the Great (Republican-caused) Recession. Anyway, the couple had trouble meeting their house payments and applied to the Bank of America for a loan modification. They were told it would take about 45 days. That was 409 days ago. It sure as hell didn’t take Bank of America that long to get a federal bailout for billions of bucks. And that bailout stipulated that banks which received the funds were to work to modify mortgage payments so that fewer people would face foreclosure.
The Boehm family
So the Boehms applied. And they did everything right–and many things two or three times over. Although the modification had not received final approval, the process was started, and the Boehm’s made every modified payment on time. They spent hours upon hours on the phone trying to straighten out glitch after snafu after hitch caused by the bank’s carelessness. “You faxed us this information already? Really? Then do it again. You’ve faxed it twice? Oh. Try faxing it to this other number.” After all that effort on Mike and Mary’s part, the Bank of America has decided to foreclose. Proceedings will start the day after Christmas.
Monday, a group of Mike and Mary’s friends and activists mobilized by M.O.R.E. (Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment) staged a protest in front of the Clayton office of the bank in St. Louis County. Ninety people showed up and most of them stayed the better part of two hours in the cold. The hope was that a strong showing would move the bankers to relent and allow a loan modification. Not only did BoA not do so, it got the Clayton Police to arrest six activists who had the gall to go up four steps onto bank property. The six were led away in handcuffs, issued two summonses apiece (for trespassing and refusing to obey a lawful order) and then released in less than two hours. Kat Logan Smith, the Executive Director of Coalition for the Environment and Hannah Allison, who organized today’s protest for M.O.R.E., were among the six.
Hannah Allison (in foreground) and Kat Logan Smith (ahead of her) are led away in cuffs
Kat Logan Smith (wearing her Bank of America exec devil’s horns) displays her summonses
The video below opens with a few seconds of chants at the rally but consists mainly of an interview the Boehms gave me at the Clayton Police Station while they waited for the arrestees to be released.
The Boehm’s have complained to the Missouri Attorney General’s office. In doing so, they noticed that there were five pages of complaints that have been lodged for similar foreclosure problems on the website. And that’s just for Bank of America. But Koster’s office coolly informed them that they are taking the matter under advisement. (Should the Boehms translate that as: ‘Go away. You don’t interest me’?)
Meanwhile these level headed, hard working people are living in a nightmare, courtesy of their mortgage lender. But don’t blame Bad for America. A buck has no conscience and neither do most corporations. In throwing the Boehms under the bus, BoA is simply minding the bottom line. The bank makes money when it forecloses:
While homeowners, lenders and investors typically lose money on a foreclosure, mortgage servicers do not, says report author Diane E. Thompson, of counsel at the National Consumer Law Center. Servicers are the companies that manage the mortgages and collect payments.
“Servicers may even make money on a foreclosure,” she writes. “And, usually, a loan modification will cost the servicer something. A servicer deciding between a foreclosure and a loan modification faces the prospect of near certain loss if the loan is modified and no penalty, but potential profit, if the home is foreclosed.”
Thompson attributes this to a system of perverse incentives created by lawmakers and rulemakers in the market, like credit rating agencies and bond issuers.
Hmm. Do you suppose that Bad for America was hoping that the Boehms would be a little less responsible about dotting every i and crossing every t in the paperwork and less persistent about verifying that the bank had received it all? Few people are as organized and responsible as Mike and Mary. If the Boehms had been a little less reliable, the bank could have leaped on some miniscule mistake as an excuse to foreclose. Not that BoA cares that the family made payments for an extra year. Who knows but what Bad for America strung the Boehms along for more than a year just to get that additional money out of them before finally cashing in its foreclosure chip. All that is just guesswork, of course, and I could be wrong about it; but I’m not wrong about this: BoA’s attitude is to hell with people. In fact, to hell with the American economy and all the damage these foreclosures are doing to it. As for bad publicity, this corporate entity might as well shoot us the finger. In fact, that’s what it did when it ordered the arrests. Such arrogance is hardly surprising when you remember that Bank of America is the main investor in QC Holdings, the biggest payday lender in Missouri. Bank of America is used to screwing people over and getting away with it.
The question then is, are we–and the Boehms–helpless? The answer is that we’re not, but we’ll have to be like water on stone: a persistent force. Homeowners who have a problem like the one the Boehms face should contact Attorney General Chris Koster both by e-mail and by calling 1-573-751-3321. They should also call M.O.R.E.’s national hotline: 1-877-59HOME9.
As soon as I post this, I will call Koster’s office and urge that they take action. Please do the same. Unless we annoy the spit out of Koster, he won’t do diddly squat.
The most comprehensive solution would be for laws that encourage this predatory lending practice to be changed. But the House is about to be in Republican hands. So lotsa luck with that. For now, progressives need to get Bank of America as much rotten press as we can generate. Yesterday’s action mustn’t be the end of that effort, just the beginning. We will have to be our own 21st century Charles Dickens, exposing the Scrooges of the nation.
I wish I could tap Mike and Mary on the shoulder and tell them it’s time to wake up, that it was just a bad dream. I can’t do that, but if they want me to, I’ll keep their story front and center.