POLITICS
03/26/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Home Owner Protests Foreclosure in Queens, NY

This story was reported and written by Lauren Cannon. She is one of the HuffPost citizen journalists helping cover the on the ground effects of the foreclosure crisis. Sign up here to participate in HuffPost's new EyesandEars citizen journalism feature.

To gaze at the lush gardens, mid-sized family homes, and lack of tenement-esque apartments, you'd never guess that Laurelton, Queens sits just a borough away from Manhattan.

Myrna Millington, 73, resides in this quaint residential neighborhood comprising a mostly Jamaican, West Indian, and Asian population that is a ten minute drive away from the local subway station. Originally from Jamaica, Mrs. Millington and her husband purchased her three-bedroom house 38 years ago for about $30,000. According to Millington, the house was valued at $409,000 in 2008. She currently resides in the home with her 37-year-old son and receives a monthly income of $800 in social security benefits.

Millington's life changed in 2000 when her husband passed away. Her husband left the home in substandard condition, and Millington began receiving citations from the city as a result. She contacted Tri State Construction Company to fix the problems, and over a period of two years, Millington took out two HELOC loans through Fleet Bank in order to pay for the renovations to her home that initially totaled $160,000. According to Millington, the construction company caused further damage and did not complete the job. The company filed suit against her for non-payment and Millington, whose home had long since been paid for in full, refinanced to pay off the mechanical lien on her home, the original HELOC loans, and credit issues arising from the construction problems. Her mortgage was issued by Option One (now American Home Mortgage), and packaged by a Topdot mortgage broker that was recommended to her by a friend.

The sub prime mortgage that she was ultimately issued caused her loan debt to balloon to $360,000 and her monthly payments to rise to $3,159. Millington, who is in the process of opening her in-home business, Mrs. Myrna's Day Care, had her home foreclosed on in September 2008. The day before her home was to be auctioned off in January, she got in touch with ACORN for their assistance.

The New York Times recently profiled Millington and other individuals facing foreclosure prior to the kick off of ACORN's "Home Staying" Campaign. ACORN organizer Julia Boyd announced at the rally and press conference held outside Millington's home on February 19th, "We will not rest until all foreclosures are put on hold". City Council member Thomas White Jr., pledged that he would continue to support the community efforts to fight the rising evictions. "This is the second part of an agenda (to move) towards Main Street," he said. "We have a person who stole $50 billion who is still in his home. Her home is worth some money. It should be renegotiated (so that she can remain in her home) just like that $50 billion Ponzi person gets to stay in his luxury apartment".

Americans are divided over whether the homeowners themselves should face the burden of the foreclosures over tax payers. The "Home Staying" Campaign comes on the heels of President Obama's Homeowner Affordability and Stability Plan, which adds $75 billion of additional debt to the $17.4 billion bailout of the auto industry back in December. The White House will also reportedly buy up to $200 billion of both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac preferred stock. As of February 20th, gold, a safe haven for investor's in lieu of stocks and devalued currency, hit the $1,000 mark again, a level not seen since March 2007 in the wake of the domino collapse of Bear Sterns and fellow financial institutions. The Dow also hit decade low levels. Manhattan, long known for its extremely low vacancy rates in home properties despite astronomical costs, is feeling an unprecedented pinch in the market as well. Lockhart Steele, creator of Curbed.com, has documented Manhattan developers and homeowners resorting to great lengths, including offers of months of free rent and closing costs, to either rent or sell their properties. He notes that the Manhattan market is speculative at the moment. "People seem to be kind of waiting it out," he said.

However, across the bridge, Millington and ACORN are not simply waiting it out. If the conditions in affluent Manhattan are tough, the ones in Queens are tougher. According to The Queens Courier in an article profiling Millington, Queens has the highest foreclosure rare in New York City. ACORN is currently acting on behalf of Millington and others to stage protests and non-violent sit-ins against their evictions and negotiate on their behalf. On March 4th, the eligibility details of Obama's plan for homeowners will be released and mortgage lenders will begin accepting applications. Although incentives will be given for the lenders, they will participate in the program only on a voluntary basis, and homeowners may still be subject to rejection. On account of the amount of debt that is continuing to accrue in the wake of the federal package for homeowners and further stimulus plans, some wonder if there are other avenues that homeowners can or should have gone through in order to pay their mortgages.

In the case of Millington, her home was completely paid off prior to the problems regarding the necessary repairs to her home. Her debt spiraled out of control when she refinanced and used her own resources to fix her plumbing and other problems after the construction company filed suit against her. However, even though the work was allegedly sub par and never completed in full, Millington never filed a countersuit in order to recoup her funds or for further damages. When asked if ACORN would be willing to back Millington in filing suit against the company for damages, an ACORN representative responded that ACORN does not file lawsuits for the homeowners they work with, nor do they employ lawyers.

While this policy works within the framework of the objectives of ACORN, the questions remain, in the wake of rising national debt and a tidal wave of market destabilization, if the voluntary Obama plan will only offer a quick fix for the short term rather than stabilize mounting foreclosures in the long term. In Millington's case, would a league of pro-bono lawyers acting on her side, recouping money from the entity that resulted in her seeking out a predatory lender in the first place, be more responsible and possibly effective in the long term than either ACORN or Washington stepping in to prevent her from honoring an agreement to pay what is owed? Should this case and other's like it receive the same preferential treatment in the Obama plan as someone who is being foreclosed on amid a lay off and loss of healthcare, as a victim of compounded market conditions? Many homeowners may have to offer that burden of proof come March 4th when the details of the plan are released in full. Regardless, ACORN announced at the press conference via a group battle cry, exactly what Mrs. Millington planned to do regarding a possible eviction. "She's staying right here", they shouted in a rhythmic chant. "She's not going anywhere".

This story was reported and written by Lauren Cannon. She is one of the HuffPost citizen journalists helping cover the on the ground effects of the foreclosure crisis. Sign up here to participate in HuffPost's new EyesandEars citizen journalism feature.