By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON--Brockton officials are looking to drop Bank of America as one of the banks that handles the city’s financial services--a move sparked by an outcry from residents, their supporters and area public advocates who say Bank of America and other large national banks are decimating Brockton and other communities by kicking out residents instead of negotiating new mortgages to keep them in their homes.
“They not only have the ripped the hearts out of us…they have ruined the basic idea of the America dream and the realization of owning a home,” said Leigh Bigger, a Brockton resident struggling to save her house from foreclosure with Bank of America, during a City Council Finance Committee meeting Monday night.
More than 40 residents and advocates attended Monday night’s meeting to express frustration and anger toward national banks like Bank of America, who they say have taken billions in taxpayer bailout money, returned to giving CEOs huge bonuses and, at the local level are punishing homeowners instead of negotiating with them and in the process have needlessly kicked people out of their homes and destroyed communities.
Advocates and residents over the last few weeks have been hitting the streets of Brockton, New Bedford, Fall River, Lawrence, Lynn and other Massachusetts cities and towns that have been hard hit by the mortgage crisis.
Brockton Interfaith Community, or BIC, has joined forces with City Life, a Boston-area advocacy group and a recently formed Brockton Bank Tenant Association to raise awareness of individual, regional and national problems associated with the mortgage crisis—a problem they say has only got worse with the banks’ bailout.
A vigil was held Monday, March 12 at 267 Howard St. in support of Luckner Vernet, who has worked with a nonprofit to buy his house and then turn around and resell it to him at current market value—about $150,000 less than he bought it--and avoid foreclosure and allow him to stay in his house.
Chase Bank, who eventually bought Vernet’s mortgage from a struggling lender refuses to negotiate or help with the plan.
Vernet, who attended Monday’s finance committee meeting, said Chase will not respond to any entreaties and is moving ahead with foreclosure and plans to auction the house.
Vernet said instead, Chase intends to kick him, his wife and their two children out of the house and sell it at auction.
“They want to punish us,” Vernet said. “They won’t sell it to the non-profit who will sell it to me at a cost I can pay. They want it to be empty and ruin the neighborhood and me and my family’s life,” he said.
The City Council finance committee Monday voted unanimously in support of reinvesting the city’s money away from any services being provided by Bank of America—services Treasurer-Collector Martin Brophy said include processing the city’s payroll account—a major change he said that could be beneficial to the city and send a message to big banks like Bank of America.
“It wouldn’t just be symbolic. Bank of America seems to be charging more fees for services—they seem to want to get out of municipal and government services--and I think it would be a beneficial for the city,” Brophy said after Monday night’s meeting.
“I’m not thrilled at times with the products and services they are providing. I’ll go out and solicit local options,” Brophy said.
Brophy said the city uses Bank of America, Rockland Trust, Century and Sovereign banks, and Mass. Municipal Depository Trust for much of its financial services, such as payroll, the city’s health care trust, and dedicated revolving funds.
Brophy said not all local banks can handle municipal and government accounts.
He said Rockland Trust, Webster and Eastern Bank have the capability of providing Brockton the services it needs. However, Brophy said, a move depends on what kind of proposals the local banks can offer the city and if it is more affordable than dealing with Bank of America.
“A lot of Is have to be dotted and Ts crossed to do this,” Brophy said. “This is a major change,” he added.
He said each of those 4 banks handle $80 to $100 million of the city’s money per month.
Meanwhile, resident Bigger and others are doing everything and anything they can to not lose their homes and prevent a further decimation of neighborhoods and cities and towns that are being destroyed by rows and rows of vacant homes.
Bigger said she has worked for the state's DYS for more than 20 years.
She is a single mother making about $45,000 a year who bought a 3-family in Brockton 8 years ago because her lender said she couldn’t afford a one-family, but with rent from a 3-family she would be better off and they would approve her for a loan.
She was strenuously steered toward an adjustable rate mortgage, and other moves were made and other promises made, like because the housing market and property values were exploding 8 years ago, she would pay a lower monthly cost and be able to “flip” the house and refinance in a few months.
Instead the housing market crashed, property values plummeted, and after keeping up with ballooning payments for a while she stopped paying because you can’t get help if you’re paying your mortgage.
When she stopped paying angry foreclosure notices followed.
She has been working through different programs to rewrite the loan, but has been stymied by a never ending morass of document searches with Bank of America who transfer her from one department to another with each asking for the same documents and transferring her to other departments until she received bogus company addresses and bogus phone numbers.
She said she owes about $500,000 on a house she bought for $300,000 and it is now worth, “maybe,” $180,000.
Bigger said she has been working with Bank of America to stay in the home, but like millions of other homeowners working with national banks, the bank would rather kick the residents out and put the property up for auction—creating vacant homes where homeless people, transients, thieves and other scavengers come in and sleep, steal copper wiring and pipes, hold parties, and in general create havoc and crime in neighborhoods.
The run-around has been harrowing, Bigger said, and like thousands in Brockton, Fall River, New Bedford and other hard hit areas, she no longer thinks it’s her fault for not understanding the schemes being presented by predatory lenders.
“I’m an educated, hardworking person who has only wanted to own my own home,” Bigger said.