A disabled Youngstown woman with a monthly income of $1,068 struggles to hang onto her North Side house.
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
Rachel Wilkins has suffered job loss, overwhelming medical and utility bills and the loss of her 17-year-old daughter, Maressia, killed in a drive-by shooting in 2007.
Now the Youngstown woman faces the prospect of losing her house in a foreclosure.
“I hope they have a heart and let me keep my house. I hope they don’t throw me out,” Wilkins said, referring to Wells Fargo Bank and HomeEq Servicing Corp., the loan-servicing company that filed the foreclosure against her.
“I’m willing to pay something, but I just can’t pay what they’re asking,” Wilkins said of the bank and loan servicer.
In December, the bank filed a foreclosure complaint on the two-story, three-bedroom, brick home at 212 Upland Ave. on the city’s North Side, which she bought 10 years ago.
The complaint, lodged in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court and assigned to Judge John M. Durkin, alleges that $61,799 is due, plus 7.7 percent annual interest.
Atty. Jeff Lilly of Community Legal Aid in Youngstown, who represents Wilkins, said he’s seeking a loan modification.
“We’re hoping that they’ll reduce her interest rate to make her payments more affordable,” or reduce the principal, Lilly said.
Wilkins, 39, survives on $1,068 in Social Security disability and $16 in food stamps each month.
She juggles an array of monthly expenses, including $568 for the mortgage, an average of $150 for electricity, $75 for water, $40 for telephone service, gas bills ranging from $50 in the summer to $250 in the winter, $258 in personal bankruptcy debt and about $600 in out-of-pocket medical expenses not covered by Medicare.
How does she make it? “I’m trying to figure it out. I don’t know,” she replied.
“I can’t live without electric because I’m on a generator,” she said, referring to the machine that supplies her life-sustaining oxygen at home when she isn’t using her portable oxygen tank.
Wilkins suffers from a rare condition known as sarcoidosis, which affects her lungs, eyes, skin and heart, and for which she takes multiple medications.
With electricity to support her breathing being her top priority, she fell behind in her water bill payments, causing the city to shut off her water last month.
By going to city hall and paying her $156 arrearage, plus a $40 reconnection fee, she got her water supply restored the same day it was turned off.
If the foreclosure filing forces her out of her house, she said she’d have to return to public housing, where the federal government subsidizes rents.
“Everybody wants so much for rent. I would be forced to go back to the projects,” said Wilkins, who once lived in the Youngstown Metropolitan Housing Authority’s Brier Hill Annex.
“There’s not always a guarantee that there are units available’’ in public housing, where she might have to go on a waiting list, said Christine Blair Legow, associate director of Community Legal Aid, a non-profit law firm that gives free legal assistance to low- and moderate-income people in civil cases.
Wilkins had a series of jobs in manufacturing before her illness forced her onto disability in 2006. She now wants to return to the work force.
“I’m trying to get a job, so that I can have more income, so that I could have more to bring to the table when it comes time to try to talk to these people about keeping my house,” Wilkins said, referring to bank representatives.
However, she said she’s concerned that if she earns too much in wages, she could lose her disability income and the Medicare coverage that goes with it, and that the job might not offer health-care coverage.
As to why a bank or loan servicer would find it worthwhile to incur hefty legal expenses to foreclose on a low-income person’s house in a depressed housing market, Legow said lenders sometimes buy a house back in a sheriff’s sale.
Wilkins’ house was valued at $43,700 in 2005, the effective date of the county’s last real estate appraisal, so the minimum bid to buy it in a sheriff’s sale would be $29,148, which is 2‚Ñ3 of its appraised value.
“Our role really is fiduciary,” said Jason Menke, a Des Moines, Iowa-based communications consultant for Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. Wells Fargo Home Mortgage is a division of Wells Fargo & Co. — the San Francisco-based bank.
“The servicer (HomeEq) is the one that is responsible for all of the customer contact and makes all of the decisions on the individual loan,” Menke said.
The bank is the trustee of the investor-owned mortgage-backed security that contains the Wilkins loan and many others, he explained.
As trustee, Wells Fargo’s role is to ensure that, as mortgage payments come into HomeEq, they’re distributed to the investors according to the trust agreement, he said.
Wells Fargo has asked Home Eq to further investigate the Wilkins matter, Menke said.
Menke directed specific inquiries about the Wilkins loan to Kristin Friel, vice president of communications for Barclay’s Capital, the New York City-based financial institution that owns the Raleigh, N.C.-based HomeEq.
Citing homeowner confidentiality, Friel declined to comment on the Wilkins case.
“For lenders, in general, I think it’s very difficult for them to come to terms with the reduced valuation of all these properties that they own, and, sometimes, they would prefer not to foreclose,” Legow said.
“They would prefer to enter into loan modifications where they can,” she said. “That’s sort of what we’re counting on here.”