LOS ANGELES, January 24, 2013--One more person might end up on Skid Row, adding to the 85,000 homeless in Los Angeles, because of an eviction yesterday. At noon, sheriff's deputies drove into the Broadway-Manchester neighborhood of South Central and changed the locks on the door of 72-year-old Cathelene Hughes' home of nine years.
Mrs. Hughes' story is too familiar now. In 2012, the U.S. saw an estimated 2.1M foreclosures, nearly double the rate in 2006 when the banks began their assault on U.S. homeowners, grabbing their investments and their property. In the intervening six years, nearly 20M families have been displaced. The lieutenant at Mrs. Hughes' house admitted that the Los Angles County sheriffs evict more than 3000 people each month.
Mrs. Hughes story is unusual, too. The spirited grandmother enlisted the aid of the Los Angeles Anti-Eviction Campaign, and together they leafletted door to door and block to block in this downscale community to ask for her neighbors' help. She went to Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas's office, and he called the county's Community and Senior Services. They promised her a social worker and gave her the number for the Elder Abuse Hotline. She dialed that number two weeks ago, the first time the sheriffs came to evict her. They left.
This time, it was a neighbor who saw the sheriffs pull up just after Ms. Hughes left her home to run some errands. He called her, and he called LAAEC. His phone call got her back to the home in time to rescue her pet chihuahua Prince before the sheriffs snared the pet in a wire loop at the end of a catch pole, and she was able to put some clothes and her telephone charger in her car.
Mrs. Hughes is another victim of bank fraud. Her income was inflated on her loan application, and her mortgage nearly doubled after just two years. Ms. Hughes explained, “I was denied a modification ten times because my loan was adjusting. I had no idea it was an adjustable. A guy from Countrywide called and told me that it was adjusting a couple weeks before they did it. Then he explained the situation to me.” Mrs. Hughes has paid thousands of dollars to people promising to negotiate modifications.
Bank of America, which took over her original lender Countrywide in 2008, sold her house to Colony Realty, even as her bankruptcy application, which would have given her time to find an attorney, was pending in court. In the intervening six months, not only Bank of America, but Colony tried to wash their hands of culpability, passing off the property to its subsidiary, Colfin. At Wednesday's eviction, the notice in the window said the property now belonged to a company called Signature. “That's my property, and I knew it was illegal, the fraud they committed. I never received anything from the bank saying that my property had been sold, or that anyone had purchased it,” said Mrs. Hughes. She hasn't been offered a penny of the government settlements with Bank of America for fraud and discrimination.
Cathelene Hughes, an ardent Obama supporter, learned a hard lesson, as people often do when their human rights are snatched from them. Musing over what happened, she concluded, “The L.A, Sheriffs are not protecting the people. They're protecting the investors who are stealing our homes. They're being paid to let the investors take property from homeowners. Our elected officials aren't backing the citizens who are trying to build neighborhoods, homes, they're letting investors come in and take people's properties. When it comes to voting, they promise us this, and they promise us that, but they still throw the people out. We'll be fighting this until it turns around, and I know I'm in the fight until it turns around.”
The social worker hadn't returned Mrs. Hughes's daily, sometimes hourly, calls over the two weeks since the first arrival of the sheriffs. This time, a call to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas's office got a response in hours. Community and Adult Services had found a 0/month bed for her at a women's shelter on Skid Row. Mrs. Hughes and Prince decided instead to see if her aunt would take her in for a few days. After all, she was still hopeful that she would be back in her home soon. Before she drove away, she confided, “I'm feeling good because I know that I will prevail and get my property back. I'm a little disgusted because the system is not helping me keep my property. It went along all this fraud that's going on.” With a bit of fierceness, she added, “The whole system is corrupt.”