Growing up in Hartford, Yolanda Cruz learned to speak out, and get active. You'd find her at city meetings making her point, and then — she's that kind of person — giving hugs all around.
She and husband Edwin bought a house in the South End, and a few years later, they moved to a new home in East Windsor. A year later, the family — including two children — wanted to convert the garage into a family room, so they started paying attention to TV ads from companies that promised to ease homeowners through refinancing.
In October '04, they settled on Middletown-based Mortgage Lenders Network, whose representatives were so friendly on the phone. Cruz asked that homeowners insurance and taxes be included in their monthly payment. They were told the $1,500 quote included those payments, and they were told to not hire an attorney for the closing, things would go that smoothly.
At the closing, the Cruzes were reassured that their insurance and tax payments were included. And then? "We signed the papers," said Cruz.
A month after closing, the family got a tax bill. Cruz assumed paperwork crossed in the mail, but the next month, they got another notice and so began a maddening hell that's ongoing. Every month, there was a fresh indignity, followed by the company request for reams of documentation, which Cruz religiously supplied.
And then MLN went bankrupt, and the mortgage went to American Servicing Co., a part of Wells Fargo and Co. At ASC's urging, Cruz once sent a $3,000 payment, which the company said was the wrong amount, though the check was cashed.
They tried to keep things from their children, but the 18-year-old kept asking why they had no money, so they tried to explain things to him. The childhood asthma of Edwin, 43, came back, along with high blood pressure. Forty-two-year-old Yolanda's migraines worsened, and she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, with its chronic pain and fatigue.
Cruz, who tests Hartford children ages 1 to 6 for lead poisoning for the city, says the whole ordeal has left her disappointed, and cautious. She contacted Connecticut Fair Housing Center, where she got a pro bono attorney who is trying to modify her mortgage to make it something closer to what she was promised. The family has since received foreclosure papers.
A bill before Connecticut's legislators proposes creating a mortgage assistance program that includes a six-month moratorium on bank action for affected homeowners, and a mortgage crisis job training program, among other things. The bill also sets higher standards for mortgage writers.
Erin Kemple, the center's executive director, said Cruz's situation — though painful — is all too typical.
"If you want the long explanation, this is what has happened with mortgage industry over the last 15 years," said Kemple. "The money isn't made in giving the loan. The money is to be made by bundling these loans together and selling them as a package, or by servicing the loan."
Meanwhile, Yolanda Cruz, an activist to the core, thinks she may tell her story to civic groups. She'll tell potential homeowners to be careful, to go through a bank, and get an attorney.
The center says that in last year's third quarter, Connecticut saw 7,747 foreclosure filings — a 920 percent increase over the same time last year. Yolanda Cruz is a fighter, but think of all those people who got their notices, and quietly — and sadly — packed their bags and left.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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