Group works to fight foreclosures in Austin

August 30, 2011
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Gloria Harris was about to lose her Austin home.

In 2007, Harris — who co-owns the home on Lockwood Avenue with her elderly father — was working as a lunchroom assistant for Chicago Public Schools. While on summer break from her job, Harris knew she’d be $75 short on her August mortgage payment.

So she called the lender to let them know: “They told me they don’t take partials and to talk to someone in litigation.”

Harris said the lender wouldn’t accept any payments and told her the payment plan would be modified. But after the lender told her the required paperwork couldn’t be located, the company began foreclosure proceedings.

Harris’ story is all too familiar in Austin.

According to a study released earlier this year by National People’s Action, Austin has the most foreclosures of any Chicago community. (Not surprising, given Austin is the most-populated of Chicago’s 77 community areas.) From January 2010 to March 2011, Austin had 2,206 housing units in foreclosure.

A local neighborhood group is trying to make a difference. With Harris’ help, The Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign formed an Austin chapter in March and meets every other Tuesday at 6 p.m. at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, 5700 W. Midway Park. The next meeting is set for tonight, Aug 30.

“I thought it would be important (to form a group in Austin),” said Harris.

Anti-Eviction volunteer Ted Pearson said the group meets with residents whose homes have been foreclosed to go over what can be done to prolong the foreclosure process. He said lawyers are sometimes on-hand at the Tuesday night meetings to give advice.

Mortgages have been re-sold and re-bundled so many times, Pearson said, that it’s sometimes hard for the banks to prove they own the house.

“The problem is, most people don’t go to court and stand up to the banks,” Pearson said. “They give up.”

The group also canvasses Austin for new foreclosures on Saturday afternoons.

“If you drive around here, you’ll see the number of houses that have been boarded-up and taken by the banks. They become drug houses. It’s a total waste,” said Pearson.

To deal with the foreclosure problem, the city of Chicago has been awarded $153 million for its Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP).

Mercy Housing will purchase foreclosed homes in Austin with the NSP money and re-develop them, said state Rep. La Shawn Ford, then the rehabilitated homes will be sold at an affordable price.

“Affordable to whom?” asked Harris. “What if they (potential buyers) have no job? And what happens to the people that are losing these houses?”

Ford defended NSP, noting the program will soften the depreciation of properties being felt by other home owners in the area. “We can buy up (foreclosed) properties as soon as they hit the books,” he said.

Ford also cautioned that his influence as a local elected official is limited. “As a state legislator, when you speak locally, you can’t do anything to stop foreclosures,” he said. “Foreclosures will last until the federal government negotiates with the banks. All we can do is kick the can down the road.”

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) said she is exploring ways to generate an additional amount of NSP funds for her North Austin ward. She said about 10 abandoned properties are for sale in Austin through NSP.

“It’s a good start,” said Mitts.

As for Harris, she said she isn’t sure when she’ll know if she can keep her home. “Everything is up in the air.”

austintalks.org@gmail.com

 

 

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