If a house falls into foreclosure and nobody is around to hear about it, does it make a difference? What about if an entire coalition is around? This week, volunteers at the Colorado Progressive Coalition tried the second option when they accompanied local homeowner Jim Erlsten to the downtown Broadway Wells Fargo to sort out his own foreclosure situation. Before yesterday, Erlsten's most recent notification gave him until May 14 to pay $5,000.
But while it put him on alert, that deadline was only one piece of paper in a large stack of "contradictory notifications," according to Erlsten. His central confusion stemmed from information, which he had little of. Holding a hefty bundle of notices he received in the mail at the house threatened with foreclosure, Erlsten says he didn't know who currently owns his mortgage, what his payment schedule is and where his good-faith checks were going. Historical financial details aside, Erslten faced a choice between defaulting on his home or selling off the tools of his construction business.
But he had heard from a friend that the Colorado Progressive Coalition is pushing changes to the state's foreclosure laws, so he called the group. Right now, the CPC is targeting most of that effort on Initiative 84, which would require lenders to provide proof of ownership before foreclosing on a property. If approved, the amendment to the state constitution would affect homeowners like Erlsten, whose request for advice turned into a group trip to Wells Fargo, the institution behind his paperwork.
"What is crazy is that we still don't know who actually owns his deed," CPC Economic Justice Director Corrine Fowler says. "But at least the other information is cleared up. We're very satisfied."
Over two days, the group guided Erlsten through his meetings with Wells Fargo. On Wednesday, roughly forty supporters picketed against the bank and its policies while Fowler and Erlsten walked into the building. (Quickly, security closed the door on Fowler, only letting Erlsten inside.) That day, he scheduled an appointment to discuss a loan modification -- which he has been denied three times -- the following morning.
And at 9 a.m. yesterday, his quest progressed just as smoothly. The bank's president and regional manager both escorted Erlsten to his meeting with a loan specialist, he says, and all three reviewed his documents, acknowledged the contradictions and approved his eligibility for a modification. To boot, they also lowered his interest rate by one percent -- and tacked his $5,000 in mortgage arrears to the back of his loan, meaning he doesn't owe it immediately and won't have to sell his business.
After the meeting, Erlsten called his daughter to update her on their opportunities. He plans to volunteer for the CPC in the future. And while this week's protest in support of one man's home is a PR move -- and an admitted one -- it's one that worked. It might also be one that is repeated.
"Jim's house could have been on the auction block next week, but we asked the bank to take its time and review the paperwork, and we found a solution," Folwer says. "We certainly can't go wrong saving one house at a time."
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