Last year, a speculator showed up to inspect Karen Mims’ home. That’s how Karen found out that her home of 12 years was getting foreclosed on.
Fast-forward through a year of legal struggles and unanswered phone calls. At 6:00 AM on Tuesday, August 11, a crowd of over 50 people gathered outside Karen’s house in East Oakland’s foreclosure-plagued District 7, as part of Just Cause Oakland’s protest of her eviction. Karen has found herself nearly out of options, and at this point must file with the court for a stay of eviction on a day-by-day basis.
Karen’s story is by no means uncommon these days. Homecoming, the company that initially took on her refinanced loan in 2007, lost a payment of hers. After Homecoming was bought out by Delaware-based Aurora Loan Services, Aurora agreed to place Karen in a repayment plan. They also could have modified Karen’s loan, changing either the number of payments or the amount of each payment while leaving the total sum owed the same. Instead, Aurora filed for a court order to evict.
Foreclosures have hit communities of color hardest of all. As the Applied Research Center’s Race and Recession report notes, redlining and other racist policies in past decades helped make communities of color into prime territory for unregulated subprime loans and predatory lenders. As a result, middle- and upper-income Black families were more likely than low-income white families to be sold a subprime loan.
What makes Karen’s story so frustrating, thought this is by no means unique to her, is Aurora’s response to her attempts to get her loan modified. Aurora’s approach has been — very simply — not to pick up the phone. Ever. For anyone. The office of District 7 Councilman Larry Reid had called Aurora 22 times as of two weeks ago, with no response. Just Cause Oakland has a campaign organized specially to call Aurora until someone answers.
Aurora’s ability to act or not act without consequences is symptomatic of the federal governments mismanagement of the foreclosure crisis. In an interview with KPFA (direct audio mp3 link), Just Cause Oakland’s Matt Nelson points out that financial giant Wells Fargo claims to have neither a plan for dealing with an increased volume of foreclosures and loan modifications, nor the resources to train up their staff to handle them. This is the same Wells Fargo that’s received $25 billion in taxpayer money as part of the bank bailout, by the way.
While measures like Making Homes Affordable help some homeowners, the qualifications are prohibitively restrictive. And while Oakland passed Measure EE, the Just Cause Act, in 2002, the measure only protects renters whose landlords face foreclosure. Neither law helps Karen, a homeowner who’s willing to negotiate, but whose loan company won’t even answer the phone.
I spoke with Karen on Thursday, the day before her first stay of eviction expired.
RaceWire: You bought your house back in 1997. Why did you want to buy a house?
Karen Mims: I bought a house for a sense of stability. I wanted to have a place where anyone I knew could have a place to stay, if they became unexpectedly ill, or if they just fell on hard times. And I did have a couple of friends staying with me who were in need, but since the foreclosure, they’ve moved out.
RW: Control of your loan was passed around to several companies, as banks bought and sold bundled mortgages and as agencies got absorbed into each other. While your mortgage is now held by Aurora, it was initially through Homecoming. When you refinanced in 2007, why did you choose Homecoming?
KM: I actually didn’t choose Homecoming — that was just the group picked by the real estate agent that I worked with when I refinanced. He picked them, I assume, because he thought that going with them would be a good idea.
RW: What does your neighborhood look like? Is it predominantly people of color?
KM: My neighborhood is mostly people of color — Hispanic and African-American. The foreclosure crisis crosses the ethnic line, however.
RW: Does your neighborhood have a lot of foreclosures? Has it always?
KM: The whole neighborhood is inundated with foreclosures, completely inundated. It kind of has the appearance of a ghost town. You’ll see a family one week, and the next time you look up, they’re gone. It’s been that way for a couple of years or more. Before then, maybe you just didn’t hear about it, due to the silence of the people involved; they wouldn’t want to divulge a lot of their personal affairs.
As the crisis began to build, though, it became unmissable. I took a tour a few months back, just to meet everyone, but — so many of the houses were abandoned! I wanted to make an effort to sit down and communicate, and to be more effective then one person working alone; to be a group of people working together.
RW: And speaking of working together… Once Aurora’s application for a court order for eviction was approved, the only thing that could legally stop it was another court order, which you got. The most visible part of Just Cause Oakland’s work has been rallying the community, but they’ve also helped you work through the courts to stay in your home. Tell us about that.
KM: Just Cause has been wonderful. They’ve given me a lot of really firm support; I have nothing but admiration for them. With Just Cause’s help, I applied for a stay with the court, and so far I’ve been granted one. I’m applying for another stay on Friday; it’s then up to the judge to approve it. And then I wait around until it’s approved by the judge.
RW: Does Just Cause have more rallies planned around your case?
KM: Yes, there might be another rally at my home in the immediate future.
RW: How do groups like Aurora make money off of foreclosures? How does it benefit them to evict rather than to modify a loan?
KM: I don’t know. I honestly haven’t figured that one out.
RW: What’s the big-picture solution to the foreclosure crisis?
KM: We need strong, solid legislation that helps people like myself, and so far, politicians as a group have been shying away from that. They really need to hear the voices of everyone who’s affected — not just the homeowners, but their daughters who get affected, their mothers who get affected, the neighborhood, and everyone who’s affected by the economy. I don’t know who hasn’t been touched by it! We need to stand collectively.
RW: Do you feel optimistic about the future?
KM: I do. It’s by no means easy at all; it’s a very stressful situation to be in, but I feel as though I’m in good hands, and we’re taking it day by day and we’re standing our ground. After all, it is a just cause.
From Just Cause Oakland:
We must keep on the pressure. Karen Mims needs our support. Please call Aurora Loan Services’ legal representative, Nicole Kim, at (720) 945-3217, and the loan officer in charge of Karen’s loan, Carrie Black, at (720) 945-4566.
We are demanding they rescind the eviction for Karen Mims, Loan No. 0021802152. Just Cause Oakland is also asking for people to make donations to Karen so that she can stay in her home. The rent that Aurora is asking her to pay is $50 a day. If you can donate a day or part of a day, that would be greatly appreciated. To make a donation, contact Just Cause Oakland at JustCauseOakland.org, or at (510) 763-5877.
Video at top: Lisa Gray-Garcia of POOR Magazine interviews Ray Leon, representative for Oakland’s District 7 Councilmember Larry Reid, at Just Cause Oakland’s rally at the home of Karen Mims. Check out Lisa’s coverage of the event at SF BayView. Photos courtesy of Just Cause Oakland.