Speaking out about foreclosure in Sonoma

Sonomans facing foreclosure and eviction from homes they’ve lived in for decades are beginning to speak out. One such homeowner recently described getting a two-year runaround while attempting to refinance her mortgage. The bank that claims ownership is now threatening to auction off her house of 20 years.

With the outcome still unresolved, she was speaking to a small group of Sonomans who have banded together to see what they can do to stop the sale and her eviction. Most of those involved brought stories of other friends who have also faced foreclosure.

It’s not only here in Sonoma that resistance is developing. On Wednesday, hundreds of demonstrators rallied at Wells Fargo’s annual meeting in San Francisco to demand that the bank declare a moratorium on foreclosures.

Indeed, a major confrontation is brewing between the biggest Wall Street banks and the millions of newly impoverished families that the banks are trying to kick out of their homes.

Instead of leaving with their tails between their legs, more and more people are simply staying put after they get the banks’ foreclosure notices. And this has escalated since the banks’ illegal shortcuts have come to light.
“The banks are crooks,” is the squatters’ common justification, along with a sense of betrayal that Washington has awarded the banks billion-dollar bailouts while giving struggling homeowners nothing.

Fully half of those who are behind on their mortgages have suffered job losses or pay cuts. When the bankers gave themselves big bonuses, it was the last straw.

The foreclosure squatters are being joined by homeowners who are “under water” – saddled with mortgages that are now significantly more than the value of their homes. Instead of moving out and mailing in their keys, many have simply stopped paying their mortgages.

Just five big banks service the greater part of the country’s more than 50 million mortgages – Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Citicorp, JP Morgan Chase, and Ally Financial (GMAC).

Since revelations that the big banks have been running foreclosure mills while in many cases not actually holding the mortgages, the squatters apparently have the silent support of most of the rest of the country. The politicians who have come out in favor of a moratorium on foreclosures would only do so if it was popular.

Indeed, broad, grassroots support has emboldened judges to deny the banks’ foreclosures. By late last year, Long Island judges were dismissing 20 to 50 percent of their cases. Up for re-election, the sheriff of Cook County (Chicago) suspended evictions.

Nationally, some 6.7 million people are seriously behind on their payments or are already in foreclosure. The banks have already seized the homes of 6.2 million more. Together, that’s more than a fifth of all mortgages.

Across the country, people who have stopped paying their mortgages are averaging 17 months in their homes before being evicted. In California, 25 percent of the people who have stopped paying their mortgages are still in their homes two years later.

California is among the minority of states that permit foreclosures without oversight by the courts. Foreclosed-on Californians face the big banks without a chance to appear before a judge. Since they are often unable to pay a lawyer to seek other remedies, they are foreclosed on without a say.
As sale prices plummet again, we are in a serious housing depression with no light at the end of the tunnel. It makes no sense for people to be ousted from their homes by the banks that have created our hard times.

Sonomans should rally around their neighbors being threatened by the banks.

Dave Ransom

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