November 20, 2014

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Getting out from under water can be frustrating

VERMILION — Homeowner Denise Powers says she’d be out the door of her Roxboro Road home if it weren’t for Mindy Cooper Wright.

Powers recalled crying after receiving a final denial letter last June after numerous attempts to fight her foreclosure.

“I said, ‘I’m done. There’s no more chances,’ ” she recalled.

Cooper Wright, Lorain County Urban League housing director, tries to keep homeowners facing foreclosure in their homes or facilitate graceful exits when mortgage modifications aren’t financially feasible.

Like many homeowners, Powers was confused and frustrated by hassles and paperwork when she sought a modification after being foreclosed on in 2010 by Wells Fargo. While attending biweekly meetings, Powers said court officials often didn’t have documents she had sent Wells Fargo lawyers, a common complaint of homeowners fighting foreclosures.

“It was kind of degrading,” Powers said. “I can understand why people give up.”

Powers credited a billboard about the Restoring Stability program, a state initiative designed to keep distressed homeowners from losing their homes, for connecting her with Cooper Wright.

After a year of negotiations that included daily and weekly phone calls beginning in February of last year, Cooper Wright was able to get Wells Fargo to extend Powers mortgage rather than foreclosing.

Powers’ predicament was typical of many homeowners facing foreclosure. Divorce, illness and unemployment are the most common reasons for foreclosures, experts say. Powers, 48, lost her job as a lab technician.

Powers started working full time in January at Mercy Regional Medical Center in Lorain, but by then, she had gotten behind on payments for the home she moved into in 1994. Powers owed about $18,000 when she first met with Cooper Wright and now owes between $33,000 and $38,000, according to Cooper Wright.

Cooper Wright said the treatment Powers received exacerbated her problem.

“The fact that we have to submit the same documents three, four times before they actually have it in their computer systems is a major problem. Homeowners don’t have the money to repeatedly fax 50, 60 pages every week (or) mail their information in through FedEx,” Cooper Wright said. “I’ve become cynical. I think the banks really don’t want to work with homeowners.”

Lorain attorney Zach Simonoff, who’s been working with clients facing foreclosure since 2009, is more charitable. Simonoff said that at big banks the right hand often doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.

“One side will be doing loss mitigation and doing a workout, and in another part of the bank down the hall or in another building, it’s processing it for sheriff’s sale, and neither of them talk to each other,” Simonoff said. “The rules are extremely complex on the modifications, and they change fairly regularly.”

While some homeowners are caught in the bureaucracy, others are being defrauded.

Simonoff said some of his clients were conned by out-of-state companies peddling fraudulent mortgage modifications.

Homeowners purposely default to get a modification they’ve paid the companies to arrange, only to be told they’re out of luck.

“A lot of people are being taken advantage of because of their desperation,” he said. “It has nothing to do with the banks, (it’s) these workout mills.”

Cooper Wright said it’s a shame that homeowners have to seek help from lawyers or organizations like hers.

“Servicers should be willing to work (directly) with these homeowners, and they’re just not,” she said.

Nonetheless, Powers and her husband, Raymond Harris, remain grateful.

“If it wasn’t for Mindy, we wouldn’t be here,” said Raymond Harris, Powers’ husband. “Denise even gave up. Mindy didn’t.”

Cooper Wright said homeowners who need assistance can contact her at (440) 323-3364, ext. 22, or mcooper@lcul.org. They can also contact the Urban League’s foreclosure counselor, Larisa Staruch, at (440) 323-3364, ext. 31, or lstaruch@lcul.org.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.