Bank of America customers seek foreclosure help in Tampa
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11/03/11 Janelle Irwin
WMNF Drive-Time News Thursday | Listen to this entire show:

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A study by The Daily Beast has ranked Tampa the eighth poorest city in the nation. Bank of America is inviting struggling homeowners to Tampa this week to help them avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes.

Despite the massive communication sent out to 30,000 homeowners facing foreclosure along the I-4 corridor, Phillipa Ashby only anticipates 1,000 or so. Ashby is the Vice President of national mortgage outreach for the bank. She said there are many options available to customers facing foreclosure, but the company is focused on helping those people avoid transitional solutions like short sales.

“I mean, our focus here is modifications. Bar none. The other scenarios, we don’t really go into other scenarios here, we give them other options from an education standpoint because modification is not optimal for everyone. So we do have people here on site who do talk about a short sale or a deed in lieu or any other sort of transitional services type pieces. But again, that’s not encouraged and that’s not why we’re here. We probably have maybe 4 people, 3 people here who talk about that and 200 people here who are focused on modifications.”

Ashby said fewer than half of people that come to outreach events with the required documents leave with a loan modification. But some of the participants have already received modifications on their loans. Jim and Tracey Schwalbach registered to meet with a loan specialist hoping they could get a better offer.

"I actually got a loan modification through them, but it wasn’t enough. I mean, they wouldn’t do any principle reduction; my house is worth half of what I owe on it. Wife: Yeah and they put a ghost mortgage behind it, so when we pay it off we still owe another mortgage behind that. Husband: In my lifetime it will never be worth what I owe on it."

Charlene Diefel has tried to get a modification of her loan since 2009. That year she moved into a vacant rental property after being unable to find tenants. She said the process has left her fielding mixed messages in call after call from the bank and hopes she can get a more definite answer in person.

"Basically I want to see if they’re going to work with me or not. I’ve gotten denials and I’ve gotten letters saying that they’re working on it and that’s it’s under review and then I’ve got calls saying, do a short sale, we’re going to offer you $3000 to get out like nothing was happening. I think one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing. I think that is the problem with the large banks."

And the personal interaction is just the ticket according to Bank of America’s Ashby. She said a lot of customers start the process cranky, but by the time they’re done they are often singing another tune.

"You know, doing things over the phone is challenging even for the most sophisticated of borrower. This face to face interaction is that personal contact to engage in something that’s scary, that’s very emotional and that’s a learning process for many borrowers. So, at the end of the day, our surveys and everything else, we get more hugs than you would care to count."

But a married couple left without doling out any hugs. Robert and his wife own a house in Kissimmee, he asked that his last name not be used. The plumber and Disney employee didn’t qualify for a modification. When asked if the process left him with any hope for the future of his home, Robert and his wife didn’t share the same optimism.

"Not to me, for her yeah. But for me, to me, I don’t believe in these people. I think they want my house back because they’re starting to build there again and I’ve got Bank of America calling me up harassing me, telling me that it’s their property, that I need to get out of their house. And the woman says she’s from Bank of America when she calls me; we own the house, we’re foreclosing on the house and you need to get out of my property."

"Have you been served foreclosure papers yet?"

"Nope, none whatsoever."

"Have they made any comments about why that is?"

"They said they’re not doing it."

Judi Kramer didn’t get an answer at all. They told her one would come in 7 to 10 days, after she submitted a missing form. She’s not counting out help from the corporation deemed to big to fail, but she thinks events like this one are just high-priced schemes.

"I think they’ve spent a tremendous amount of money bringing people in here as part of a larger PR program so that they can say, look what we have done to help our clients out."

Bank of America is criticized by many for contributing to the mortgage crisis. In fact, a small group of protesters from Occupy New Port Richey went to the event to get homeowners' opinions about the corporation. The bank’s mortgage outreach event is being held in the Tampa Convention Center from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Saturday.

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Occupy New Port Richey

Occupy New Port Richey meets every Sunday at Sims Park from 3pm to 7pm for a potluck and General Assembly. We are in solidarity with OWS and Occupy Tampa, however we have no plans for a 24/7 occupation. We are currently holding FREE permaculture and sustainability classes and are beginning the plans for a time bartering system. Find us on Facebook and join the movement in West Pasco.