Supporters of a Detroit woman facing eviction arrived at her home at 6 a.m. Thursday morning to begin a long-term vigil, following a writ of eviction signed by a 36th District Court judge.
According to the paperwork, Jennifer Britt, 49, and her family must now vacate their home on 15071 Warwick in the city's Rosedale Park neighborhood. After years of legal wrangling, Britt and her advocates still hope to physically halt the eviction process and negotiate a deal for her to keep the house.
Britt currently lives with her son, daughter, 74-year-old mother and a 77-year-old uncle who she referred to as having been born with developmental disabilities. She says she has put over $45,000 into the house. The title is now held by Fannie Mae, a government-sponsored financial institution, who bought it at a sheriff's auction from Flagstar Bank in 2010. The Detroit-based nonprofit Southwest Solutions has attempted to purchase the home on Britt's behalf. After appraising the property, Southwest Solutions offered $10,000. Britt says Fannie Mae told them they wouldn't part with it for less than $121,000 -- a price she and her backers say is unreasonable. The dispute has attracted the attention of U.S. Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow, who are now inquiring into the issue. Southwest Solutions is continuing efforts to negotiate a deal on Britt's behalf.
"I know it seems odd, but I'm still optimistic that Fannie Mae will change their mind," Britt told The Huffington Post, "I've had tremendous support from my community, the eviction defense community, Occupy Detroit [and] BAMN. I just feel there's still hope out there that they'll come to their senses and let me keep my home."
The vigil is the most dramatic part of a struggle that began when her husband Leon was killed in a car accident in 2006. After Leon's death, she found a note on the door of her home that informed her the property was being foreclosed on and was scheduled to be sold at a sheriff's auction. This came as a surprise to Britt, who says she was unaware of the extent of her husband's difficulties paying the mortgage.
At this time, she alleges, Flagstar Bank told her if she paid $26,000 in late payments and fees they would halt the foreclosure. Britt said she used the money from her husband's life insurance policy to cover the costs.
The bank then allegedly raised the mortgage payments from about $1,200 to $1,550 a month. She tried to modify the loan, but could not because her name was not on the mortgage title. Jennifer and Leon were separated when he purchased the house in 1999 and her name was left off the mortgage title. She said he bought the house in an effort to win her back. She says a probate court awarded the estate to her, but attempts to refinance the home went nowhere.
"They kept giving me the runaround until I went out to their headquarters and confronted them," said Britt. "Then they said their attorney told them they couldn't add anything on the original mortgage."
In June 2008, things went from bad to worse for Britt, when she lost her job as an administrative assistant. The mortgage payments continued to climb, allegedly reaching $1,950 a month in October of that year. She finally stopped making payments to Flagstar in 2009 after exhausting her savings.
Flagstar foreclosed on Britt's home in 2010 and sold it to Fannie Mae. In August of that year the government-backed financial institution filed an eviction against Britt in 36th District Court. Fannie Mae won possession of the house later that month. Before they could remove Britt, however, she filed a federal lawsuit against Fannie Mae and Flagstar with the help of a paralegal friend. The suit accused the two parties of fraud and predatory lending. Because of the pending lawsuit, Britt received a stay on the eviction proceedings from the 36th District Court in November 2010.
Because neither party showed up for a supplementary hearing, Fannie Mae's eviction case was dismissed by the court. Joseph McGuire, Britt's current attorney, said her federal complaint wasn't well written and didn't plead the right claim, so it was thrown out of federal court -- a decision Britt is appealing.
After Britt's lawsuit was dismissed, Fannie Mae reinstated their eviction case with the 36th District Court. Britt then called Congressman John Conyers office for help. She was directed to a lawyer who works with a free foreclosure-centered legal clinic that is organized through Occupy Detroit.
Although proceedings were delayed through further legal issues, Judge Nancy Blount finally signed the writ of eviction this Wednesday. With the legal options exhausted, Occupy Detroit and other supporters are now rallying together to mount an eviction defense of the home. It's not the first time the organization has engaged in this activity.
In January Occupy Detroit along with the groups Moratorium Now and Homes Before Banks successfully defended the Detroit home of William and Bertha Garrett by preventing the placement of a dumpster that would have been used to dispose of their belongings. They eventually worked out a deal with holders of the mortgage and were allowed to remain in their home.
For the moment, Britt's supporters are standing their ground and trying to build up support for a combination rally, barbeque and press conference that will take place at her home on Tuesday at 4 p.m. Although there has yet to be a confrontation with the company hired to evict her family from their home, Britt remains confident about the future and thankful for the support she is receiving.
"Lots of people are walking up to me and thanking me that I'm fighting and saying they are [dealing with foreclosure] too or know someone who's going through the same thing," she said. "I really do think people have my back."
Fannie Mae and Flagstar Bank did not respond to requests for comment from The Huffington Post.