A protest at Bank of America demands loan modifications and accountability

Linda Stapel was a field researcher in February 2009, making enough money to buy a home by herself. But that's when she was blind-sided a by a woman in her car while collecting data for work. Stapel was left with Annular tears in her neck, severe pain and arm weakness that prevented her from working.

She received disability compensation in June 2009 and applied for a home loan modification a year later. That's when things got bad.

After months of back and forth, Bank of America denied her application. Having reached the end of her rope, Stapel led a protest of fifty or more people at a Loveland branch of Bank of America today -- the same day that Bank of America share-holders are meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Stapel, who lives in Johnstown, is a member of Colorado Progressive Coalition (CPC), an organization dedicated to empowering different sectors of people to have a voice in public policy through grassroots campaigns. CPC helped organize this protest when it heard about Stapel's situation. She owes more on her mortgage than her home is worth. One in five homeowners is in the same situation, according to CPC.

When Stapel and her fellow protesters, including four generations of her family, arrived at the Bank of America mortgage location at 11 a.m. today they were met with a note saying the branch would be closed today. Stapel suspects the bank got word of the protest.

Members of the CPC picketed outside the branch until employees at Keller Williams Realty, which shares a building with Bank of America, called the police. When the police showed up Stapel explained that she just wanted her letter faxed to the Bank of America. She says her letter reminds them "as nicely as possible that they have a job as a mortgage company."

"Bank of America would no longer exist if the American tax payers had not helped them out," says Stapel. "I'm not asking for a bail out. I'm just asking for a chance to get a rate that I can pay, so I can continue to pay off the loan I signed to pay. I'm not asking for an easy way out. I got myself in to this. I will pay my way out, but I just need some help."

Keller Williams faxed the letter for her. After this, Stapel actually received a call from a Bank of America employee.

"I told her my situation and she said she is going to start an inquiry and assign somebody to my case and that they will be contacting me on Friday with some answers," says Stapel.

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At the time of this writing a message seeking comment about the protest left for Mark Wisroth, the branch's Home Loans Manager, had not been returned.

This is certainly not the first communication Stapel has had with Bank of America's mortgage department. She is one of many Colorado residents who have had long and painful interactions with their banks.

"Our members around the state have been working on the issue of bank accountability, especially loan modification, for the last few months," says Ben Hanna, organizing director of CPC. " What we've heard and learned from dealing with a lot of individuals is that all the avenues you think would work to get a modification don't. Housing counselors struggle the same way homeowners do. Banks are losing people's documents. One hand doesn't know what the other is doing. You might talk to eight different people at one bank in one week. We have folks here who have been going through a process like that for months, and for some, years."

Hanna could very well be describing Stapel's ordeal. She filled out the appropriate paperwork through the federal Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and sent it in to Bank of America. Two months later she received a letter saying she was missing documents, so she sent them again. She soon received a second letter saying certain documents were still missing, so she called the bank to find out which documents and assured the bank she had sent them.

"This continued on for months and months to the point that I labeled every single paper with my loan number on it so they would know it was part of the same package," says Stapel. "They would still lose it. Finally, after many phone calls and working with somebody, the underwriting department told me all the paperwork had finally been received and they would look at it."

She then received a letter saying she had been denied for a loan modification along with a list of twenty-plus reasons why the modification might have been denied. She called to ask for the specific reason.

"They said, 'We don't know, it's just one of these things from the list,'" says Stapel. "It could have been any number of reasons but they wouldn't tell me which one."

She was then offered an in-house modification from Bank of America, as her previous loan was from Century Wide Insurance. Seeing no other option, she went directly to the Loveland branch where she protested today and had bank employees fax the paperwork to the appropriate number. She received a confirmation at the bank that the fax had been received. Thirty days later she was told she was denied because she had not submitted the correct paperwork.

Stapel's case is not all that unique and CPC has held similar protests at banks around the Denver area before. Bank of America was chosen not just because it is Stapel's bank, but because it is the leading bank foreclosing on Colorado families, according to CPC. The organization also points out that Bank of America scores poorly in comparison to other banks when it comes to granting permanent home loan modifications and leaves the highest number of struggling homeowners either foreclosed or with an unresolved modification.

"Folks are pretty fed up that we're years into the foreclosure crisis and banks and servicers still haven't gotten their shit together in a way that can provide service to their own clients," says Hanna. "We decided we're just going to start marching in to banks and demand that they do what they should have been doing all along."

The CPC and the protesters are pushing Bank of America to reach an agreement with the fifty state Attorneys General to provide permanent home loan modifications and principal reductions to the current market value of homes.

Stapel is running out of savings. She is not sure she can make her house payment next month. Her monthly income went from $6,000 as a field researcher to $1,877 on disability.

"I worked very hard to get where I am and am now disabled and unable to work at this point after something you could never foresee," says Stapel. "I'm just trying to work with them because I thought they were supposed to help people like me. They never let you through. They prevent you from going through the system. All I want to do is say, 'At least talk to me. Tell me how I can get some resolution so I don't lose my house.'"

Today's protest provided some relief and publicity for Stapel. The real work is still ahead.

"It is satisfying that the wall is finally broken," says Stapel. "I feel like I have a voice and I hope they understand there will always be the CPC to support people in this situation. They need to take a look at what their banks did and open themselves up to helping these other people so we don't have to continue to have protests."

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