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Trisha Ocona Francis Headshot

An Open Letter to America

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Please be advised that after reviewing my American Dream it has come to my attention that you and my mortgage bank have erroneously reported the existence of a negative rating against me, after believing that I was worthy of a loan for the most expensive item I will ever own.

It seems like only yesterday that I was sitting at a table with people I paid and trusted and had the same thought about me, signing what seemed like endless documents that signified a monumental moment for my children and my life as a new homeowner. My destiny, like that of so many Americans -- to get a piece of the American dream -- came alive. However, years later I found myself in the most dreadful state of mind often leaving me feeling breathless, confused and weak, wondering how I was going to cover the next mortgage payment and the one after that. I began selling my valuables like my car, which I needed for work. Next, I parted with the family's sentimental jewelry. After dipping into my savings, investments, and retirement funds, which diminished so quickly, I knew that it was time to search for personal loans.

As a result of my mortgage interest rate going up, I had to unfortunately increase my tenant's rent. Looking to my left and right at work, down my block, in the supermarket, and at my children's schools, I realized there were many other Americans living just like me and were sinking in the same sorrow. This empathy enabled me to find the strength to put my pride aside and seek assistance. I talked with a representative that sounded sympathetic and eager to help me, yet there was no resolution. Sadly, opportunists were also waiting on the sideline at the right time to scam me. Due to desperation and vulnerability, I thought someone could really turn this poor situation upside down and had the key to resolve this crisis. The Oscars around the corner lost their beautiful home to foreclosure after owning it for 30 years, due to a defaulted $400,000 refinance loan. Then to make matters worse, an investor who never planned to live in that home or even in our neighborhood bought it two months later for a deal, NO -- a steal, at a whopping $250,000 in what is called a "short sale."

No assistance ever reached their path or mine and it feels so wrong. The thought of how the American Dream I so longed to achieve, the America I so loved could bring me so much misery and sleepless nights, was troubling. Why did the banks get billions of dollars in a bailout when many failed, but as a working, tax-paying citizen, my cries were left on deaf ears? How do I get out and become free again? I know everything is a risk including homeownership, and it comes with a lot of sacrifice. However, I felt deceived and taken advantage of. What now?

I remember as a child growing up in a six-member household, surviving with a father who earned his living as a local truck driver and a mother who was a housewife, we always knew that the first bill to ever get paid was the mortgage. There would be no new shoes, food to eat or utilities paid until my parents put together enough funds to make sure we were secure with a roof over our head. But once our housing was paid along with other bills, we were then able to go shopping for whatever else we needed and maybe sometimes even desired things.

Once when I went to purchase a gallon of milk, I inquired about Jamie the friendly store clerk. I was sadly told that she was no longer around. I stood there dumbfounded as I witnessed another worker in tears asking for an opportunity to stay so that he could continue to support his family, but was told "Sorry, the sun just wasn't shining in the store like it once did." One day with "extra money," I walked in the store again and I recognized the "For Hire" sign was displayed in the front window and months later the same employees hired were still there. The next day, I woke up and looked for my father. My mother told me, he was working today because his boss called him and said that the stores requested more deliveries to stock their shelves. Later that night, he told us that the factory where he picks up the items plans to open up a couple more days a week to meet the demand of the stores. My Aunt Lisa, who had held her job as the assistant to the VP for more than 25 years, no longer had to "retire early" as proposed by her boss weeks before should business have failed to pick up.

Now years later, sitting at the dinner table, with a family of my own I thought if this cycle started with my parents, myself, and so many other Americans struggling to pay their housing bills, why isn't the economic focus on that alone?

Then the light came shining through; a plan, a real design for me, my son, my daughter, my parents, for the family members that sleep under my roof at night. The Blueprint!

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In 2008, the house of cards collapsed. Mortgages were sold to people who couldn't afford or understand them. Banks made huge bets and bonuses with other people's money. It was a crisis that cost us more than eight million jobs and plunged our economy and the world into a crisis from which we are still fighting to recover.

-- President Barack Obama, BluePrint

So let me get this straight! Millions of Americans like myself will get the chance to come in from the rain. There will be a chance to receive a loan modification offering interest deductions, lower monthly payments or a principle deduction -- refinancing for my fellow homeowners who are currently struggling and in much need of a lower rate. Principal deduction across the ball, bringing home values to their current and actual value is the only real modification that can work, since the prices of mortgages are severely detrimental to values and ever increasing naturally again. If the banks are neither incentivized or mandated to modify loans, the poor statistics of this success will occur again. There would be an emergency home loan program available should I fall behind and a forbearance program if my spouse or I were to become unemployed.

In addition, there must be foreclosure prevention counseling from reliable free HUD-approved agencies to help me see to it that I never sink again into this cycle. My hope is that the vacant, foreclosed and abandoned homes like the two crack houses down the block will finally be bought, redeveloped, and employ local contractors. Furthermore, they could be sold or rented affordably to a new set of neighbors with kids for my children to play with in the summer would dissipate. With this venture, new homeowners would not fall into the same mess that I did. Thanks to assistance from homebuying tax credits, low interest rates and more clear disclosures, banks will be prevented from deliberately setting me up for fraud. It is crucial though that there be an establishment of a real watchdog for regulatory and enforcing our rights. Mandatory homeownership training for all seeking to get a mortgage will ensure everyone understands where things can go wrong and have a better understanding of how not to repeat the same errors. Your expeditious attention to this matter shall be greatly appreciated.

Signed, American Homeowners