As the economy improves, home foreclosures have not gone away. In fact, they are on the rise again in Massachusetts. In August, there were more than 700 foreclosure filings in Greater Boston, an increase of 4 percent from July.
"Halt the evictions! Halt the evictions!"
These are the sounds of the foreclosure crisis in Boston.
About 25 people are making a habit of standing outside the Boston Housing Court to protest the foreclosure and eviction policies of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Steve Meacham is an organizer with City Life, the community group that has been staging the protests. City Life has been outside the court three times in the last five weeks, since the eviction of one man in Roslindale in August.
“This is ground zero of the resistance – of this type of the resistance anyway,” he said.
City Life’s take it to the streets resistance against foreclosures has included a forum of Boston Mayoral candidates, rallies, even eviction blockades.
Olivér Hendricks is a member of City Life. On August 22 he was evicted from his home of 18 years after a contentious foreclosure battle that lasted more than three years and went all the way to the state supreme court.
“My situation is that I lost my job," he said. "I’m an iron worker and when your contract you go from here to there, and what happened is the economy tanked, and so nobody’s building anymore, and we depend on building.”
Hendricks was laid off in 2009. He said in the months leading up to his layoff, he tried to get Flagstar Bank to lower his interest rate, but they wouldn’t. Soon after he lost his job, he started falling behind on his payments.
“I kept calling them," he said. "I kept asking them. Kept saying, you know could you lower the interest rate, could you give me a modification, you know, it's always it takes 45 minutes to get to them. Talk to this one, talk to that one. Man, it's just a rat race.”
That sense of being in a rat race is not unusual for underwater homeowners, according to Esme Caramello, Hendricks’ former attorney. Caramello is the deputy director of the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau in Cambridge.
“We hang out in the housing court. Each private eviction case has a Thursday date as their first court date, so we go there and we try to interact with every single person who is going through foreclosure in the City of Boston,” she said.
That’s how Caramello met Hendricks. In June 2010, Hendricks’ house foreclosed, but he continued to live there. Fannie Mae became the property owner.
“We took on his case," Caramello said. "We took it to trial. We lost but we felt that decision was wrong so we appealed it, and eventually we appealed it to the Supreme Judicial Court.”
The state Supreme Court ruled in favor of Fannie Mae, which meant Hendricks could be evicted. But that ruling came almost two and a half years after the foreclosure, and by then, Hendricks was working again.
He had income again and could afford his home, but it was too late. Hendricks wanted to strike a deal with Fannie Mae to stay in his house. The solutions he offered– to reinstate his principal loan, to pay rent, to buy back the house through a third party investor– did not work for Fannie Mae.
In an email, Fannie Mae spokeswoman Callie Dosberg indicated that they did try to find a solution with Hendricks.
"We want to prevent foreclosure whenever possible, which is best for homeowners, their community and Fannie Mae,” she wrote in the email. “Every effort has been made to provide options to Mr. Hendricks.” .
Similar to countless cases across the U.S., Hendricks lost his job and had too much debt, which lead to his foreclosure and eviction. In 1996, Hendricks bought his home for $132,000. He refinanced twice, which doubled his mortgage to $265,000.
“The fact remains that there are millions of people in this position," Meacham said. "And what’s best for the public at large and the bank going forward?”
Underwater mortgages are still a problem that a lot of people face. In Massachusetts, in July and August, there was an uptick in foreclosure filings from the month before.
Daren Blomquist is vice president at RealtyTRAC, an online real estate data company. He said the state has seen a rebound in foreclosure activity after a drop off.
“Some people may be surprised that, ‘Oh, we're through the housing crisis and then there's this other wave of distress that comes through and affects things.’ My concern is we are going to see more of those evictions,” he said.
In August, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren issued a statement on behalf of Oliver Hendricks calling the policies of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, “senseless”.
On the day of Hendricks’ eviction in August, several City Life members sat in front of the moving vans carrying Hendricks' belongs. Boston police arrested nine people, but as soon as the moving vans were driven away, the protestors were released from the police wagon without charges.
“This is emotional stuff,” said Boston Police Captain Frank Armstrong. “We don’t need to add to it by charging people with misdemeanors.”
Armstrong said he understands the protestors’ position. After all, he’s a homeowner too.