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Foreclosure Horror Story: Woman, Daughter With Cerebral Palsy Evicted

This is about as outraged I’ve seen a straight news article get about the foreclosure crisis, with particular scorn reserved for Bank of America.

Dirma Rodriguez had five minutes to gather her things and vacate the West Adams house she and her severely disabled daughter had lived in for more than 25 years.

As a property manager changed the locks, Rodriguez fluttered back and forth from the yard — where a pile of stuff lay by the kitchen stove — to her car, where her daughter, Ingrid Ortiz, sat screaming and crying […]

I came upon Rodriguez’s story through Occupy Fights Foreclosure, the latest offshoot of the 99% movement. Occupy interceded to stop her eviction March 26, and it just may have saved her home for good. Bank of America said last week it is considering a loan modification that would return the home to Rodriguez and her family.

But how did it come to this? Bank of America took a $45-billion bailout from taxpayers when it got into financial trouble. Why couldn’t the bank have shown Rodriguez — a widow whose life was already a trial — the same courtesy when she got squeezed?

It’s just so rare that you see the morality of this issue put in such clear terms. “Banks got bailed out, we got left out” is a familiar phrase at rallies, but not typically in major newspapers. I guess throwing a woman with a severe case of cerebral palsy out of her home will do that.

The details are familiar. Bank of America’s servicing arm had the homeowner in a trial modification for 13 months, but they pursued foreclosure at the same time, and they eventually just sold the house out from under her, at a significant loss, rather than working out a payment plan for a borrower who had paid the mortgage faithfully for 20 years. BofA disputes the claim, but the author, Gale Holland, rightly says with the appropriate amount of skepticism that the public record shows that banks lie about foreclosures and commit them in an illegal fashion as a matter of practice. And then there’s this part, where Holland almost jumps out of the newspaper:

Bank of America was the only lender that joined a 2009, $1.1-million city pilot program to help homeowners in the North San Fernando Valley obtain loan modifications. But as of February, the bank could find no “eligible borrowers,” city staff reported to the City Council.

Really? REALLY? There’s not a single Bank of America borrower in North Hollywood or Sun Valley deserving of a break?

That’s just a function of creating foreclosure mitigation programs that put all the discretion on the lenders. They act in their interest, not the public interest.

When you have the head of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, urging debt writedowns as a means to revive the economy, you know that it’s one of the few avenues left to recovery. “U.S. households have to be able to unload a bit,” Lagarde said. But if you don’t mandate that, if you don’t demand that, you’re going to get the same performance that we’ve seen. Homeowners will continue to struggle, foreclosures will stay at crisis levels, and banks will continue to book large profits.

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David Dayen

David Dayen