A Decade Later, Foreclosure Crisis Still Reverberates for Some in Northeast Ohio

May 12, 2017
Originally published on May 18, 2017 4:00 pm

It’s been 10 years since foreclosures reached a peak in Cuyahoga County. From 2007 to 2015, mortgage foreclosure numbers fell around 63 percent countywide, according to figures compiled by the Thriving Communities Institute.

But despite this good news, there are Northeast Ohioans still feeling the aftermath of the crash and the financial instability it caused.

Trying to Buy Again after Foreclosure

Twice a month, Antoinette Smith from the housing agency ESOP teaches a class in Cleveland for people thinking about buying a home.

“So what is the first thing that you do when you buy a house?” she asked her class at a recent meeting.

“Change the locks,” they replied.

“Change the locks,” Smith said. “Because you do not know who had that key.”

Smith led her students through a long presentation on credit, debt-to-income ratios, amortization schedules—the many financial details of signing a mortgage and owning a home.

Some in her class have faced foreclosure before, like Almeta Wilson.

“In ’08, I lost my job due to the stock market crash and everything,” Wilson said.

Wilson and her husband bought their house in Warrensville Heights in 2005 with a loan from CitiMortgage. She had been working at a credit card company before losing her job.

Wilson recalled going downtown to seek help from a national housing agency in 2009.

“I didn’t get any help,” she said. “Because once I submitted all the information, we were prepared…and no one reached out, nor were we able to contact anyone.”

Over the next several years, the house went in and out of foreclosure. Wilson turned to ESOP and found some relief from a state and federal program called the Hardest Hit Fund.

But as property values sank, Wilson went underwater, owing almost twice as much as the value of her home. Last year, her marriage ended, and Wilson was relying on her income as an education aid. CitiMortgage foreclosed again, and took the house to sheriff’s sale this month.

Wilson isn’t sure if or when she’ll have to move. She and her sons, she said, prefer to stay in the Warrensville area.

“They have good days and they have bad days,” she said. “Because they’d rather stay where their friends are, where they’re comfortable, where they know, and they feel safe.”

Wilson said she hopes to buy again. With ESOP’s help, she’s working to improve her credit score and budget her expenses.

Homeownership Out of Reach for Others

About a dozen years ago, Fred Brooks was taking care of his ailing mother.

“Every month, it was my job, she would write her checks out, provide money for the bills for the household,” Brooks said. “I was the person that was taking care of it for her.”

His mother had refinanced her home in Glenville with Argent, one of the biggest subprime lenders in the county. Argent sold her mortgage to Wells Fargo. After she died, the bank foreclosed. But Wells Fargo couldn’t find a buyer at sheriff’s sale.

“That’s when it got really rough on my end, being that I was unemployed, really didn’t have a way to make property tax payment arrangements,” he said.

The next to foreclose was Cuyahoga County in 2009, a peak year for county tax foreclosures. The county sold his mother’s house. In 2012, the new owner filed to evict him.

Brooks said people at his church helped him hire an attorney. In a court filing, the lawyer wrote that Brooks offered to make a down payment on his delinquent taxes. Nevertheless, the eviction went forward.  

“Hands was tied, you couldn’t do anything,” he said. “I just felt empty.”

Brooks said he spent time in a homeless shelter and with a neighbor. His church helped him to move into a one-bedroom affordable apartment. Brooks said he’s stable now, but still wants his mother’s house back.

“Because if I could have found some sort of halfway decent employment, I could have made arrangements to keep it,” he said. “Yes, I would have been broke all the time with paying bills, but it’s a moral value, from where we come from. Like I grew up in that house.”

The attorney he hired to help him has since died. The home is currently valued at $23,100, a bit more than one fourth the size of his late mother’s mortgage. 

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