When Hard Work is Not Enough

The Story of Max and Helen Pareto*

My wife and I had the best intentions when we bought a house at foreclosure in 2008. We gutted it and did a total remodel. Our goal was to do a refinance, bringing the mortgage and other debts down to something more affordable for us. But, then the recession hit, and we were not able to refinance anything. At the end 2009, I left my position at a local church. Fortunately, I received a severance package including salary, housing, and benefits for the entire year of 2010. My wife was working part time for a local school district, managing the lunch room at an elementary school. But I had a hard time finding another job in 2010 and 2011. We knew we were getting to the point where we would not be able to pay the mortgage. So, I called our bank several times. One of the big ones! But, they would not help us because we were not yet in arrears. Here we were trying to be proactive, and no one wanted to talk to us!

Then we found our way to a housing counselor who was able to help us get a loan modification. This took two plus years, every minute of which we were on the financial edge, just barely making it. It was a living hell! But we never gave up! And it looked like we were going to be okay. I had just begun a job working with teens and kids on the Kitsap Peninsula. I loved the job. But the commute was eating us alive. Aside from the time it took - it was fifty miles one way; the gas costs and

bridge tolls were just too much. We began to fall further and further behind, relying on our credit cards just to get by. We were once again in danger of defaulting on our mortgage, losing our loan modification, and the house we had worked so hard to save. Our debt grew and grew because income was simply not enough to cover expenses. It was a combination of everything weighing us down, and finances were so stinking tight! So, we reached out for help again and found Nathan and the NWCLC staff.

We have been married for thirty-one years. We never dreamed of filing bankruptcy. It felt like crap! But, Nathan was up front with us from the beginning. He understood that this happens to hard working people when the economy falls apart. He said the bankruptcy laws were there to give folks like us a second chance. From the beginning, we were treated with respect and he worked with us to explore our options.

Our bankruptcy closed in June and I had one week until I started my new job working with kids and teens near Tacoma. We do not have any insurance, but I have full time hours and a reasonable commute. And I feel that my gifts and talents are being utilized. We are approaching our sixties. We have three grandsons who are seven, two, and one. It is time to think about retirement, but we do not see that happening soon. My ultimate goal is to have a full time position with benefits. But, for the time being, I think we will be alright. We can breathe again. Thanks to Nathan and all the folks at NWCLC!

Whatever It Takes

The Story of Hannah Ngethe

Hannah was already a senior citizen when she bought her house at the height of the subprime mortgage scams in 2005. Unbeknownst to Hannah and her family, the mortgage broker had falsified her income to make her qualify for the loan and rake in profit from the fees. She could barely afford the mortgage but had managed to keep up with the payments until 2011, when she lost her job as a care giver. At the same time, the value of her house had plummeted, making it impossible for her to refinance into a more affordable mortgage.

Winnie tried to help her mother Hannah take advantage of the federal HAMP program which requires mortgage servicers to work with homeowners, in or on the verge of delinquency, to modify their mortgages so they can keep their homes. But Hannah’s mortgage holder (one of the largest banks in America that had recently bought her mortgage) was not playing by the rules. The bank dragged out the process for years, requesting and then claiming to lose financial documents five or six times. Now in her late 70’s, Hannah’s health was deteriorating from the constant worry that she would lose her home. Then mother and daughter came to the Northwest Consumer Law Center.

Staff attorney Katy Box began by submitting a formal demand for a higher authority at the Bank to review Hannah’s application. She sent in hundreds of pages of documents on Emma’s behalf every week for over six months. The Bank still refused to review the application, instead setting a new foreclosure sale date to take away the home. Katy filed bankruptcy for Hannah to stop the foreclosure process and give her more time to get the application through the system. When it became clear that it would not be convinced to cooperate any other way, Katy filed a lawsuit against the Bank for bad practices. The lawsuit dragged on for an entire year, until finally the Bank agreed to modify Hannah’s loan to settle the case. Her mortgage now reduced to within her means, Hannah can rest easy for the first time in years, confident that she will be able to enjoy her retirement in her own home.

Keeping the Family Together

The Story of Donna*

Donna, a single mother of three children, worked full-time as a receptionist as well as part-time on the weekends as a cashier just to make ends for her family. Years earlier, some legal troubles had forced Donna apart from her children and made her unable to pay her car note, so her vehicle was repossessed. She resolved the legal problems, reunited with her children, and even went on to get an Associate’s Degree – but then got a nasty shock when the car lender, to whom she didn't know she still owed any money, got a court order to garnish her wages. The garnishment threatened to undo all the years of hard work and tear Donna’s family apart again. Donna had no way to pay a private attorney the typical $1500.00 or higher fee for filing bankruptcy. Fortunately, she found out about NWCLC. Through a no-fee bankruptcy, NWCLC was able to stop the garnishment and keep Donna and her family on track toward financial security.

A Bad Deal for Good Borrowers

The Story of the Cunninghams*

Mr. and Mrs. Cunningham* were upstanding, retired senior citizens. They bought their home 30 years ago and were loyal borrowers ever since, making every mortgage payment on time and in full. They had no idea that their mortgage company had made a mistake in re-crunching some numbers and was wrongly applying their payments, until they received a notice that their final payment was six times as much as they agreed upon.

There was no way that the Cunninghams, living on fixed incomes, could come up with that kind of money. The mortgage company was unresponsive to the complaints they filed with regulatory authorities. It seemed the Cunninghams had no choice but to miss the last payment, go into foreclosure, and watch helplessly as three decades of hard work went down the drain.

Fortunately, they contacted NWCLC. We filed a lawsuit against the mortgage company to force it to honor the contract it had signed, and a fair settlement was quickly reached. The Cunninghams, incredibly respectful of their mortgage obligation, had continued to make payments into a trust account the whole time and ended up with $4,000.00 more than they would have owed!

* Names have been changed to protect the privacy of our clients.