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Bertha And William Garrett Fight Eviction After 22 Years In Detroit Home

Bertha And William Garrett

First Posted: 01/30/2012 3:15 pm Updated: 01/31/2012 4:43 pm

After more than 20 years living in the northwest Detroit home where they raised six children, William and Bertha Garrett are facing eviction after the Bank of New York Mellon Trust Company foreclosed on their home late last year.

The eviction is expected to happen this week, but the Garretts are joining with family and friends, as well as members of local groups that fight foreclosures, in an attempt to stave off their displacement.

Occupy Detroit, Moratorium Now and Homes Before Banks gathered Monday morning at the Garrett home on Pierson Street in Detroit. A contractor attempted to deliver a dumpster to the house but was blocked by people gathering in the street, said Steve Babson, who works with Occupy Detroit and Homes Before Banks. Police then arrived on the scene but left shortly afterward, claiming it was a civil matter.

Shortly before noon, the Garretts' daughter, Michele Finley, arrived at the bank's downtown Detroit branch to plead her parents' case again.

"My parents' mentality is, 'My daughter got married there, my two sons got married there, babies have been born here, this is not just a house,'" Finley told HuffPost. "This is our life."

The Garretts bought the house 22 years ago and have been paying their mortgage ever since.

William, who owned a barbershop business, has struggled with his health, making it difficult for him to support the family. After a bad laser surgery left him blind in one eye, he lost half his income.

The family decided to take out a second mortgage in the late '90s. In 2003, William had another eye surgery to remove cataracts. That left him legally blind, and he and his wife began struggling to keep up with their mortgage.

"They added fees upon fees," Finley said. Soon, their payments had tripled. Hoping it would bring down costs, Finley's husband purchased her parents' home. Their payment then went down from $3,000 to $900 per month.

As William's health deteriorated, the Garretts again fell behind in payments. The mortgage company increased its rates steadily until they reached $2,500. Finley continued helping her parents with the mortgage, until she was laid off from her job in 2010.

In 2011 the family received notice of foreclosure. After meeting with the bank several times and getting the house appraised, the Garretts received a verbal agreement in October that they could buy their home back from the bank for $10,000.

But Finley said the bank kept changing its offer, raising the price to $12,000 and then $15,000.

In November, the bank denied the Garretts' request to purchase their house. Two weeks later, William suffered a stroke. Finley said they were never told the reason the bank would not allow them to buy back the house.

"The money is sitting in the bank," Finley said. The entire family chipped in to gather the necessarily cash. "We fought, we fought, we fought, and we couldn't stop the foreclosure."

Ron Gruendl, spokesman for Bank of New York Mellon Trust Company, said that the mortgage servicer, who he identified as IA Services, is solely responsible for the property.

"BNY Mellon is a trustee in this matter. We don't physically own the loan or the property, therefore we don't have any say in how the property is disposed of, loan modification, anything like that," Gruendl said.

A representative for IA Services said the company has no comment at this time.

The Garretts' problem is a familiar one in Detroit. In 2011, the city had the 18th-highest foreclosure rate nationally for metropolitan areas.

The rate declined nearly 30 percent for 2011, but that was partially due to foreclosure filing delays. In 2012, the number of foreclosures is expected to exceed 2011's nearly 56,000 properties, according to Realty Trac.

According to the Detroit News, metro Detroit has the most unsold lender-repossessed properties of any metro area in the country.

The Garretts' situation is further complicated by William's health concerns. While Finley searched for another house for her parents, and would gladly have them come live with her, her father is not able to use stairs, and the "shotgun" layout of the Pierson Street house makes it easier for him to navigate.

Additionally, Finley said, her parents would suffer if they left their tight-knit community.

"If anything happened in my parents' house, a neighbor is going to call me," she said. "When my dad had the first stroke, two neighbors would come down and make sure he did his therapy. I can't find that anyplace else."

Supporters of the Garretts gathered at the Detroit branch of the Bank of New York Mellon Trust Company at noon on Monday, while others stayed at the house. Organizers are asking people to gather at the house at 17795 Pierson Street, Detroit, with the goal of preventing the Garretts eviction.

"We want to shame the bank into doing the right thing," Babson said.

Finley is hoping her parents will not be forced to leave. "When I asked my daddy if I should stop fighting, he said, 'That's the only things that's keeping me living.'"

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misidentified the address of the Garretts' home as 17995 Pierson Street. It is 17795 Pierson Street.

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