To paraphrase from words often attributed to Josef Stalin — a million bank foreclosures is a statistic, but a single family losing its home is a tragedy.
So Richard Zombeck has set out help people tell those stories — one at a time — at a Web site named ShameTheBanks.org.
There’s Diane Casella from Florida, who says she can pay a considerable amount towards her mortgage, but needs a break because of sinking income and property value.
“I have never asked for mortgage help in my life, but now that I just need a mortgage that is 31 percent of my gross income, the bank acts like I do not even exist,” she writes on the site. “It was so easy to reach them five years ago, but now they have turned a deaf ear to my family’s plight.”
And there’s Mike Dillon from Manchester, New Hampshire
“No one can live in a situation like this, for this long without breaking down. Because of being in legal limbo for all this time, my fiancée and I have postponed our wedding and been unable to start the family we both want,” he says. “This has ruined me financially… I can’t even refinance away from them. I go through large bottle of antacid like you wouldn’t believe. I am stuck in limbo, I can’t sell the house without taking a huge loss, I couldn’t buy a new house because they destroyed my credit.”
Zombeck’s raw Web site, which encourages consumers to name names and be as specific as possible about their mortgage woes, has quickly garnered attention around the ranks of frustrated homeowners. He’s also gotten at least some attention from Congress, and Zombeck is now part of the lobbying effort by consumer groups this week who are advocating for the controversial financial reform legislation currently being considered by the U.S. Senate.
On Tuesday, the Massachusetts resident is meeting with staff from Sen. John Kerry’s office to share his own story and stories from ShameTheBanks.com as part of a visit by The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). He’s also trying to personally deliver his package of first-person tales to his state’s other senator, newly-elected Republican Scott Brown. But PIRG attorney Elizabeth Weyant, who is arranging the meetings, says Brown’s office has yet to reply to requests.
“Richard has done a really good job of making himself an expert on the issue,” she said. “It’s really personal for him. He gives a face to the need for financial reform.”
Weyant said one compelling element of Zombeck’s site, in addition to the number of struggling homeowners who tell their tales, is the similarity of their sagas.
“Even if we’re talking about different banks, it’s the same story, again and again,” she said. Collectively, the tales show how badly the mortgage modification process is working, she said. “To a bank, a mortgage looks like a pile of money. To a person, that’s their home.”
Among the sagas with similar storylines is the tale of Angie Burke, of Reading, Penn., who first contacted her bank about a possible mortgage modification in December 2008.
“I was fully unprepared for the duration and insanity this process can bring,” she writes in her story. After a year of filling out paperwork and waiting for bank response, she received this dismal proposal concerning one of the two loans on her home:
“The best they could do for us was lower the interest rate from 6.75% fixed to 6% fixed, saving us a whole whopping $90 a month! How is that going to help?! Our income is half of what it used to be.”
While the site invites complaints from any consumer who is frustrated with any bank lending practices, nearly every story Zombeck has collected so far deals with the paperwork madness that has engulfed participants in the Making Home Affordable program. When announced last year, the program was designed to help up to 4 million struggling borrowers, but currently only 230,000 mortgages have been permanently modified.
The complains have led to a series of revisions in the program, including sweeping changes announced by the Obama administration last month — still, another 900,000 foreclosure notices were received in the first three months of 2010, according to RealtyTrac.
MSNBC.com’s John Schoen has been chronicling the woes of the Help for Homeowners program (HAMP) for months. In January, I wrote about a woman named Deb Franklin, whose three-month trial modification had turned into a 10 month waiting game that included a foreclosure notice.
But Zombeck’s Web site shows that Franklin’s Kafka-esque nightmare is hardly an exception.
“Those stories are not unique,” he says. “It is depressing and goes further…300,000 foreclosures a month further,” he added referring to the estimated number of homes that will receive a foreclosure notice this month.