Alma Counts, an 82-year-old resident of northwest Detroit, is drawing on the support of community organizations, local officials, unions, the Occupy movement and a committed lawyer to help fight off an impending foreclosure on the home she has lived in for 39 years.
Counts, who is partially paralyzed due to a stroke she suffered several years ago, sought and received a modification in 2009 on what her lawyer, Vanessa Fluker, called a "predatory subprime loan" from Washington Mutual.
"From what I can ascertain," Fluker told The Huffington Post, "she was not even in the best of health when she was put in this unconscionable loan."
Counts faced foreclosure in 2008, but with the modification, she was able to make her monthly mortgage payments. When JPMorgan Chase subsequently took over the loan, the bank did not honor the modification, according to Fluker, and nearly doubled Counts' payment to $1,400 per month.
Counts' previous, modified payment was $728. According to Fluker, when Counts tried to make a partial payment following the change, JPMorgan rejected her check outright for not being the full amount. Foreclosure filings have begun on Counts' home on Marlowe Street, and a sheriff's sale is approaching.
A spokesman for JPMorgan Chase said the bank is working with the borrower and her representative to get additional information to review her modification.
The activist group People Before Banks organized a rally Thursday with Occupy Detroit, Occupy Our Homes, Moratorium NOW!, Jobs with Justice and union groups to call attention to what People Before Banks' Steve Babson called "a pattern of abuse in which JPMorgan Chase is failing to live up to the consent agreements." On Tuesday, organizers plan to march to Chase's Detroit offices on Woodward Avenue to highlight Counts' foreclosure and several other metro Detroit foreclosure cases involving the bank.
In Wayne County, where the rate of foreclosures is more than double the national rate, one in every 242 homes received a foreclosure filing in January, according to Realty Trac data.
Wayne County Commissioner Martha G. Scott, who spoke at Thursday's rally, is proposing a homeowners' protection and neighborhood preservation act that calls for a year-long moratorium on sheriff's sales of foreclosures. Scott said $100,000 in this year's county budget is set aside to hire someone to work with the sheriff's office and go through each foreclosure case separately.
"First people were saying, 'Okay, it's just some poor folk who didn't read everything.' But we now know it was some unscrupulous people who bilked a lot of people, even the well-educated," Scott said. "So shame on us if we don't do something about it."
Fluker is one of the people trying to do something about it. Calling herself the "People's Lawyer," she has taken on many foreclosure cases in the Detroit area, and is trying to shed light on banks that she says do not honor previous loan modification agreements.
"Unfortunately, there are still too many people, despite litigation, being foreclosed from their homes unnecessarily, when they're entitled to, and should have received, a modification," Fluker said.
Counts is one of about 11 million homeowners nationwide "underwater," owing more on her mortgage than her home is worth.
In February, the federal government completed a $25 billion settlement with the five largest mortgage lenders, including JPMorgan Chase, which in part is meant to provide loan principle reductions for struggling homeowners.
Babson said the local groups backing Counts are appealing to JPMorgan Chase to restore the initial modification she received from WAMU, as well as set aside foreclosure proceedings.
"The bottom line is Alma Counts is not going to be removed from her home," Babson said. "Chase can either do the right thing, and we'll sort it out properly, or otherwise we'll be outside her home. It will be a peaceful but determined effort to stop the bank from immoral action."