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How the foreclosure crisis turned four Seattle women into crusaders against predatory lending

THE OLD SAYING goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Dixie Mitchell raised a village.

Nine children with her late husband, Luster Mitchell. More than four dozen foster children she treated as her flesh and blood.

The life of their house in Seattle’s Central District can be measured in milestones — births, arrivals, first days at school, graduations, marriages, grandchildren and grandchildren’s children.

It has been 50 years since she and Luster purchased their big fixer-upper for about $15,000.

Memories hang on the walls like ivy in the form of family photos, knickknacks and old tools from Luster’s days building railroads and doing projects around the house.

They’d borrowed money to do expensive major improvements, using their home as collateral.

The mortgage crisis that started in 2007 and led to the economic collapse of 2008 couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Luster suffered a paralyzing stroke in 2009, leaving him unable to work and the family struggling to make loan payments, which would eventually balloon by hundreds of dollars a month as the couple scrambled to fend off foreclosure.

“It went downhill from there,” Mitchell says one night in her kitchen, as great-grandchildren go back and forth to the add-on den that Luster built himself, in part with salvaged railroad iron.

“With my husband being sick, they came and tried to snatch the house out from under me,” she says. “My hopes and dreams were to make this my castle and live happily ever after. But that didn’t happen. Hard times starting coming in, pushing and shoving.”

Mitchell is 77 and petite but with a penchant for punching above her weight class. She believes developers and banks simply wanted lower-income homeowners like her out of the fast-gentrifying neighborhood. She shoved back, publicly campaigning against predatory lending practices.

“I just went up on the corner and started walking around with signs,” she says.

 

Fueled by credit-default swaps, overextended households and pure greed, the housing crisis of a decade ago turned home prices and people’s futures upside down, literally reversing fortunes. Some ZIP codes in the three-county metro area experienced staggering foreclosure rates of 15 percent to 30 percent between 2008 and 2014.

But while the nation rebounded and the Seattle area launched into a historic economic revival driven by tech hiring, homeowners locked in the hamster wheel of personal financial devastation kept spinning, unsure how to hold on to their properties and maintain their mental health as bills piled up and foreclosure notices poured in.

African Americans, Latinos and single women over 40 disproportionately carried the burden — and stigma — of the crisis.

Dixie Mitchell, Chettie McAfee, Vera Johnson and Betsy Andrews all faced foreclosure in this time. They shared stories of humiliation, reckoning, defiance and overcoming, offering an inside perspective on the human toll taken by a downturn that tended to be described in terms of dollars and cents, value lost and gained.

All four joined forces with movements and organizations that advocated for homeowners who had defaulted on their mortgages and were at risk of losing their homes. One of the most prominent of those is Seattle-based Washington Community Action Network — Washington CAN! — which staged protests at public foreclosure auctions and at banks to keep attention on the crisis even after the Puget Sound region technically bounced back. They also worked with homeowners and newly risk-averse banks dealing with huge foreclosure backlogs to negotiate more affordable loan terms.

“Around 2012-2013, you started to hear this was not really a crisis anymore,” Washington CAN! Associate Director Chris Genese says. “For the homeowners that we were working with, they were still stuck.”

Chettie McAfee, who volunteers at Central Area Youth Association, went into foreclosure during the housing crisis and lost her home. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times)

“IT ONLY TAKES one significant event to turn your life upside down — it’s like a house of cards,” McAfee says when we meet at the Central Area Youth Association, a nonprofit where she volunteers and started a youth coding program.

McAfee, 61, displays a hard-won good humor in person. The mortgage crisis twisted her in knots. But in a strange way, it also empowered her.

When the recession hit, she was an account executive for a diagnostic-testing company in Seattle and doing well financially. McAfee says she took to heart the ethic instilled in her as an African-American child growing up in the Central District with parents who believed in the value of hard work and academic excellence: “Do your best. God will do the rest.”

Worried about her mother’s emotional well-being, McAfee had tried for years to establish a home-based senior-living facility to give her mom a social outlet. Her plan finally looked promising in 2007, when she found a house in South Seattle large enough for them to share while renting the other rooms to seniors.

It was a dream come true — six bedrooms, a view of Lake Washington, a yard out front and a fountain in back.

Then the mortgage crisis hit.

Soon after, in quick succession, her mom died, and McAfee was laid off in a company restructuring.

McAfee believes that as a veteran employee, she was the victim of age discrimination. Life was falling apart.

“It was the first time in my life that I couldn’t cope,” says McAfee, who’d also suffered a work injury that required surgery around this time. The stress drove her into a depression, but she couldn’t afford counseling.

“It was like having an out-of-body experience,” she says. “I went from gainfully employed, doing well, wonderful house, wonderful mom, to all of that was gone. I was just traumatized … To be honest with you, I’m just now coming out of it.”

Protesters hoist a banner during a Washington Community Action Network demonstration outside Seattle’s convention center, where the Rental Housing Association of Washington held its annual meeting. Network Associate Director Chris Genese (not pictured) says his group unsuccessfully fought to pass legislation to help struggling homeowners with their mortgages but says, “There wasn’t the political will.” (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times)

McAfee drew from savings to keep up with mortgage payments. In 2009, she sought a loan modification. The bank told her it couldn’t help until she missed three consecutive payments, which would have plunged her into default.

Always a careful financial planner with good credit, she was stunned by the suggestion.

“I wasn’t controlling my life anymore; it was controlling me,” she says.

McAfee followed the lender’s advice. The result was a nightmare of foreclosure notices, negotiations and “reams and reams of loan-modification documents” that seemed to amount to nothing.

Her mortgage kept getting transferred to other banks, adding to the messy paper trail.

She sought permission to short-sell the house but was told the buyer’s offer was too low.

McAfee discovered she wasn’t alone: “I realized nobody knew how to deal with the crisis.”

She’d work to keep her house while helping write loan-modification requests and legal briefs for other distressed homeowners.

A video from 2013 provided by Genese shows McAfee inside a bank lobby reading a letter to a manager detailing her frustrations and calling on the bank to do right by her. The manager tries to get McAfee to speak in private, before warning her and a group of supporters they’re trespassing.

“I just picked up my briefcase and started reading louder,” McAfee recalls.

All along, McAfee felt she was getting the runaround and even sued for negligent and deceptive behavior. She lost the case, and the house, in 2014.

Genese, who helped arrange a number of bank-branch encounters, noticed a change in McAfee and others along the way.

“People would start out a little timid, but shedding that personal guilt and acknowledging both the debtor and debtee were both culpable, you started to hear people reclaim their power,” he says. “It was incredibly touching.”

McAfee’s trying to stay positive.

“I may not have received what I was fighting for,” she says, “but I can help somebody else to not lose — that’s good enough for me.”

Betsy Andrews said it was a challenge to find a place that takes dogs, but she and Zora successfully relocated after Andrews sold her three-bedroom house to avoid a foreclosure auction. A curtain forms a bedroom inside her small West Seattle studio rental. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times)

VERA JOHNSON AND Betsy Andrews took their foreclosure activism all the way to the nation’s capital, where they joined a protest and got arrested in front of the U.S. Department of Justice in 2013, spending a night in jail.

Johnson, 48, now lives in New England. Previously, she and her family lived in a house in Southwest Seattle, where she also ran the Village Green Perennial Nursery on 2 acres she had painstakingly restored and fought to protect from development. She also held gardening workshops and hosted international travelers through a farming mentorship program there.

Speaking by phone, Johnson, a single mother of a 20-year-old and a 16-year-old, says things unraveled after her divorce from her husband in 2010.

Trying to manage mortgage payments during an economic collapse that pummeled her home’s value became a confusing, Kafka-esque ordeal.

Johnson says she too requested a loan modification, but the bank denied her for the same reason as in McAfee’s case.

For 18 months the bank lost documents, requested duplicate materials, flaked on scheduled phone calls and even blocked her from making payments in order to trigger a default, she says.

“It was just like an avalanche,” Johnson says of her experience. “It is so hard to know what’s the right thing to do.”

Johnson went public and raised more than 15,000 signatures in an online petition. She finally won a principal reduction in 2011.

She remembers what one bank representative told her: “This is the best you’re going to get, Vera. Don’t push us.”

Things only got worse.

Johnson says her loan was sold to another financial institution, which started sending intimidating late notices.

Johnson maintains she always paid on time and can prove it. She suspected lender fraud, as well as negligence by an attorney.

Twice, she had resorted to filing for bankruptcy to halt imminent foreclosure auctions. It worked the first time but not in the second instance, in 2016.

Johnson managed to scrounge up enough money to cover past-due payments, then sold the house in October of that year to keep from losing it in a foreclosure auction.

“It cost me a lot emotionally, financially and spiritually,” she says. “I consider it a victory that I was able to sell and leave.”

“I’m not just gonna be taken from and not fight back,” Johnson says. “I learned how much grit I really have.”

In West Seattle, the property that used to belong to Betsy Andrews undergoes construction. A casualty of the Great Recession and mortgage crisis, Andrews now lives in a small West Seattle studio rental. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times)

ANDREWS, 58, LIVES in a reduced-rent studio with her border collie Zora and works as an instructional assistant at a Seattle middle school.

In 2003, she bought a cottage in the Admiral neighborhood of West Seattle after a divorce. The house would be a home for her and her son, who was in the seventh grade, as well as her nest egg.

“My house had a name — Chez Betsina,” Andrews says when we meet in downtown Seattle.

She displayed a sign with that name on it so everyone could see.

Andrews refinanced her mortgage in 2006, this time opting for a riskier, interest-only, variable-rate loan. Then in 2008, as the economic collapse gathered steam, her father died, and her ex-husband, who was helping to support their son, went on strike at Boeing. Andrews’ household income dropped sharply, making it hard to pay the mortgage.

Betsy Andrews points to the West Seattle location of her former house, which she had nicknamed “Chez Betsina,” on a map. She can’t bring herself to go back there. “I miss my yard. I loved my garden,” Andrews says. “I thought I was gonna stay there forever — things don’t always work out.” (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times)

To save the house, she filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which halted foreclosure proceedings and allowed her to keep paying her mortgage through garnished wages.

But in 2012, Andrews was laid off. With no paycheck to draw funds from, the bankruptcy was dismissed. Andrews was back at square one, at risk of foreclosure.

As the job market slumped, Andrews bumped along with short-term teaching gigs, withdrawing from her retirement savings to make ends meet. She signed up for welding classes, thinking she’d switch careers.

Medical bills from an illness in 2013 compounded her hardship even as she fought to relieve other homeowners of theirs.

She was at her wit’s end by early 2016, as foreclosure seemed more certain.

“When they foreclose on you, they post it on the outside of your house,” Andrews says of the legal notices attached to distressed properties.

Her private financial disaster would be evident to anyone who passed the house.

The “Chez Betsina” sign wasn’t a source of pride anymore. She chucked it over the blackberry bushes in her backyard.

“I just felt like I had no control over my life,” she said recently in a text exchange.

Betsy Andrews sheds a tear while talking about “Chez Betsina,” the three-bedroom house she loved and was forced to sell days before it was to be auctioned off in foreclosure proceedings. “They gutted the middle class,” she says of financial institutions during the mortgage crisis. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times)

She sold the house in December 2016, days before it was scheduled to be auctioned, clearing her debt.

“I thought I was gonna stay there forever, but things don’t always work out,” Andrews says. “I’ve got my dignity,” at least.

Andrews still slips and calls her former home “my house,” but she can’t bring herself to drive by the property.

She hopes to renew her teaching certification to qualify for a better-paying job, but she doesn’t believe she’ll be able to retire at 65.

“Our culture is, once you stumble, it just cycles — one thing after another,” Andrews says. “I don’t show up in statistics anymore because I’m employed. But I’m way underemployed now.

“I lost my house and got thrown into a market where nobody can afford to rent.”

Andrews says her students offer an emotional refuge from the grief and regrets associated with losing her home.

Her other savior has been the connections she’s made as an activist.

She remembers participating in a demonstration at a public foreclosure auction and breaking down in tears over the spectacle of people’s dreams, not unlike her own, picked over and purchased by the highest bidders.

“It’s my obligation to speak about it,” she says. “What about the people who are too ashamed to come forward?”

Genese says his group helped secure loan modifications for five homeowners and slowed the foreclosure process for dozens of others to help them recover. His biggest regret is that they couldn’t keep more people in their homes. Two of the five homeowners they helped eventually lost their properties.

With soaring rents and gentrification front-and-center, Washington CAN! now focuses on pushing for renter’s rights, including policies to protect renters from excessive fees and unfair evictions.

During a recent Washington CAN! march, Mia Franklin, center, of Federal Way, protests for tenant rights with others in Seattle’s Freeway Park, near a Rental Housing Association conference. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times)

KILDARE, TEXAS, said goodbye to Dixie and Luster Mitchell, and their three children at the time, in 1962.

“We moved from Texas because it was so Jim Crow,” Mitchell says of her migration to Seattle.

As a black child in the South, she attended segregated schools.

In soft-spoken Seattle the couple discovered subtler forms of racism, such as redlining, a practice by lenders and real estate agents to keep black homebuyers out of white neighborhoods, effectively confining them to the Central District.

The couple held on for decades as the largely black CD turned majority white.

Then came the mortgage crisis and subsequent publicity as Mitchell, a former Boeing worker, took on the role of activist, even appearing alongside then-Gov. Christine Gregoire.

Mitchell staged protests and news conferences on her lawn.

She lay in the street to keep an ailing West Seattle man from being forcibly removed from his foreclosed home.

She shared her plight on MSNBC as a face of the foreclosure crisis.

Memories adorn the walls of Dixie Mitchell’s Central District house, which she successfully fought to keep as bills piled up after her late husband Luster’s stroke, which coincided with the financial collapse and mortgage crisis. Included are the saws brought from Texas by Luster, who used them to cut railway ties. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times)

Through it all — including the successful treatment of her cancer in 2010 — Mitchell says she and Luster paid what they could on the loan, with the rest going to essentials for the family.

Her plight swelled into a nationwide campaign, but there were critics, who spread rumors about how the couple came to be tens of thousands of dollars behind.

“It was stressful — being a person that didn’t do anything but go to church and try to take care of kids and have people calling you all sorts of things,” she says.

In October 2011, while holding a demonstration in her front yard, she took a phone call while everyone watched. After much stonewalling, her bank was ready to modify her loan terms.

Mitchell thanks God for answering her prayers about saving the house (with a lot of Earthbound assistance), days before a scheduled auction. Paying the bills on her fixed income, with relatives pitching in, continues to be a struggle, though.

Luster died on New Year’s Day 2017, a little over a year ago. He would have turned 83 this month.

Mitchell says her husband was proud of her for fighting but not surprised.

“He knew that I don’t take no crap,” she tells me.

“They can take my heart, but they can’t take my house.”

Article source: https://www.seattletimes.com/pacific-nw-magazine/the-human-toll-of-the-housing-crisis/

As Farm Economy Continues Slump, Some Farmers Face A Credit Crunch

Farmers are talking to their bankers to find out if they’ll receive loans for the next growing season. While most farms are still on solid financial ground, some will be out of credit, just like one Nebraska family who’s struggling to save the farm.


In winter, farmers across the U.S. visit their banks to learn whether they have credit for the next growing season, relying on that borrowed money to buy seed, fertilizer and chemicals.

But prices for corn, soybeans and wheat are low enough that some producers have had a hard time turning a profit, and financial analysts expect some farmers will hear bad news: Their credit has run out.

That’s what happened to the Delaneys, a family now trying to save their farm near Fremont, in eastern Nebraska.

The headquarters of the farm is an office inside a steel machine shed, where they repair broken-down tractors and equipment. Several years ago, when crop prices surged, the family gathered in this office and planned to grow the farm.

“More acres, more income. That’s the old philosophy,” said Tom Delaney, who runs the farm with his son, Tim, and daughter-in-law, Jody. They built it up to  2,500 acres — more land than most farms in the area — but when grain prices fell it was more than they could afford.

 

Tom Delaney farms near Fremont, Nebraska with his daughter-in-law Jody (right) and son, Tim. Their bank, Farm Credit Services, will no longer offer them credit, leaving them scrambling to avoid foreclosure. “We don’t know if we’ll be here a month from now,” Tom said. (Photo by Grant Gerlock, NET News/Harvest Public Media)

In that same office nearly two years ago, Delaney says two lenders from their bank, Farm Credit Services, told them their farm was in a financial tailspin. The lenders “basically said we’re not going to back you up anymore and you need to sell out,” Delaney said.

The family couldn’t cut costs enough to convince the bank that they could pay back their $1.8 million debt.

Delaney says it felt like the end of the world. “We don’t know what the outcome of tomorrow is going to be,” he says with a frustrated tone. “We don’t know if we’ll be here a month from now.”

The vast majority of farms in the U.S. are not in as much financial trouble as the Delaneys. Farms that own their land tend to fare better because they don’t have to pay rent, and the value of the land gives them more borrowing power.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates about 12 percent of crop farms are highly leveraged — including new farms that haven’t built up assets or farms that grew too fast, like the Delaneys. That level of debt makes farms vulnerable as banks tighten producers’ credit.

Help on the way?

While the financial pain may be limited across the industry, every day is a crisis for the individual farms that lose their loans.

“It’s hard for those from a generational farm, feeling a sense that they’re the generation that could be losing the farm,” according to Michelle Soll, the director of the Nebraska Rural Response Hotline. It was established during the 1980s farm crisis to provide financial and legal advice and family counseling. Surrounding states offer similar services, such as Iowa Concern or the Kansas Rural Family Helpline.

Jody Delaney says her days have been consumed with efforts to fight off foreclosure and save both the farm and her family.

“There were a couple months when they called our loans that we had nothing,” she says. “If it wasn’t for some odd jobs, our family would have gone hungry and our animals would have, too.”

She also says she and her husband considered divorce “because we were fighting, because of the stress.”

“We’re all fighting for the same cause, to save the family farm, to save the family business.”

More stories from NET News and Harvest Public Media:


Hogs on the Delaney farm enjoy some sunshine on a cold January day. In addition to pigs, the family raises cattle and sheep while also growing corn, soybeans and hay. (Photo by Grant Gerlock, NET News/Harvest Public Media)

Soll says she advises farmers to be detailed and honest about their business plans when meeting with their lenders because refinancing with a new bank can be a tall task. When one bank says no, it’s not as easy as going to the next one.

“Most of these banks have been bought out by larger banks,” Soll said. “They just have a guideline and that’s your guideline and that’s it.”

The Farm Service Agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, can help producers secure credit by lending money directly or by guaranteeing bank loans. In 2017, the FSA issued $6 billion in new credit, and is currently working with more than 120,000 farm families. But there are limits. Microloans go up to $50,000. Loan guarantees top out at $1.4 million. 

That may seem like a lot of money, but it doesn’t go as far as it used to. Just one acre of cropland in the U.S. is worth $4,000 on average. And those big loans are leaving farmers with fewer options.

“When debt rises to that point, it does limit your pool of lenders,” Nebraska Farm Business, Inc. financial analyst Tina Barrett says. “It might be time to liquidate some assets, pulling that debt down, so that you are more marketable to different banks.”

Scaling back and up

The Delaneys have downsized to about 500 acres, switched to growing non-GMO crops (which bring in more money than traditional crops) and revamped their farm since losing their loan. There’s now a hog pen, where pink and red Berkshire hogs root around the dirt and make a clatter as they lift and drop the flaps on their feeder bins. These animals are another part of the Delaneys’ rebuild, with a plan to raise about 2,000 hogs a year for Heritage Foods, which supplies upscale grocer Whole Foods.

Jody Delaney says her father-in-law was not on board with the idea at first, “but now I don’t think he’d change it for the world. He’s with these hogs every day, sometimes five or six times a day, checking on them to make sure they’ve got food, water, heat.”

Tom Delaney shrugs and reaches into the pen to pat a pig on the back. “If that’s what it takes to pay the bills it’s what we’re gonna do,” he says.

The farm is still in debt and the bank could foreclose on it, but it is earning a profit again. The Delaneys say this is their chance to save the family farm — if they can find a bank that feels the same way.


Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Harvest covers these agriculture-related topics through an expanding network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest.

Article source: http://netnebraska.org/article/news/1111719/farm-economy-continues-slump-some-farmers-face-credit-crunch

Credit Crunch Puts Some Farmers In Tight Spot Ahead of Spring Planting Season

In winter, farmers across the U.S. visit their banks to learn whether they have credit for the next growing season, relying on that borrowed money to buy seed, fertilizer and chemicals.

But prices for corn, soybeans and wheat are low enough that some producers have had a hard time turning a profit, and financial analysts expect some farmers will hear bad news: Their credit has run out.

That’s what happened to the Delaneys, a family now trying to save their farm near Fremont, in eastern Nebraska.

 

The headquarters of the farm is an office inside a steel machine shed, where they repair broken-down tractors and equipment. Several years ago, when crop prices surged, the family gathered in this office and planned to grow the farm.

“More acres, more income. That’s the old philosophy,” said Tom Delaney, who runs the farm with his son, Tim, and daughter-in-law, Jody. They built it up to  2,500 acres — more land than most farms in the area — but when grain prices fell it was more than they could afford.

In that same office nearly two years ago, Delaney says two lenders from their bank, Farm Credit Services, told them their farm was in a financial tailspin. The lenders “basically said we’re not going to back you up anymore and you need to sell out,” Delaney said.

The family couldn’t cut costs enough to convince the bank that they could pay back their $1.8 million debt.

Delaney says it felt like the end of the world. “We don’t know what the outcome of tomorrow is going to be,” he says with a frustrated tone. “We don’t know if we’ll be here a month from now.”

The vast majority of farms in the U.S. are not in as much financial trouble as the Delaneys. Farms that own their land tend to fare better because they don’t have to pay rent, and the value of the land gives them more borrowing power.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates about 12 percent of crop farms are highly leveraged — including new farms that haven’t built up assets or farms that grew too fast, like the Delaneys. That level of debt makes farms vulnerable as banks tighten producers’ credit.

Help on the way?

While the financial pain may be limited across the industry, every day is a crisis for the individual farms that lose their loans.

“It’s hard for those from a generational farm, feeling a sense that they’re the generation that could be losing the farm,” according to Michelle Soll, the director of the Nebraska Rural Response Hotline. It was established during the 1980s farm crisis to provide financial and legal advice and family counseling. Surrounding states offer similar services, such as Iowa Concern or the Kansas Rural Family Helpline.

Jody Delaney says her days have been consumed with efforts to fight off foreclosure and save both the farm and her family.

“There were a couple months when they called our loans that we had nothing,” she says. “If it wasn’t for some odd jobs, our family would have gone hungry and our animals would have, too.”

She also says she and her husband considered divorce “because we were fighting, because of the stress.”

“We’re all fighting for the same cause, to save the family farm, to save the family business.”

Soll says she advises farmers to be detailed and honest about their business plans when meeting with their lenders because refinancing with a new bank can be a tall task. When one bank says no, it’s not as easy as going to the next one.

“Most of these banks have been bought out by larger banks,” Soll said. “They just have a guideline and that’s your guideline and that’s it.”

The Farm Service Agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, can help producers secure credit by guaranteeing bank loans up to $1.4 million. That may seem like a lot of money, but it doesn’t go as far as it used to. Just one acre of cropland in the U.S. is worth $4,000 on average. And those big loans are leaving farmers with fewer options.

“When debt rises to that point, it does limit your pool of lenders,” Nebraska Farm Business, Inc. financial analyst Tina Barrett says. “It might be time to liquidate some assets, pulling that debt down, so that you are more marketable to different banks.”

Scaling back and up  

The Delaneys have downsized to about 500 acres, switched to growing non-GMO crops (which bring in more money than traditional crops) and revamped their farm since losing their loan. There’s now a hog pen, where pink and red Berkshire hogs root around the dirt and make a clatter as they lift and drop the flaps on their feeder bins.

These animals are another part of the Delaneys’ rebuild, with a plan to raise about 2,000 hogs a year for Heritage Foods, which supplies upscale grocer Whole Foods.

Jody Delaney says her father-in-law was not on board with the idea at first, “but now I don’t think he’d change it for the world. He’s with these hogs every day, sometimes five or six times a day, checking on them to make sure they’ve got food, water, heat.”

Tom Delaney shrugs and reaches into the pen to pat a pig on the back. “If that’s what it takes to pay the bills it’s what we’re gonna do,” he says.

The farm is still in debt and the bank could foreclose on it, but it is earning a profit again. The Delaneys say this is their chance to save the family farm — if they can find a bank that feels the same way.

Follow Grant on Twitter: @ggerlock

Copyright 2018 Harvest Public Media. To see more, visit Harvest Public Media.

Article source: http://www.kunc.org/post/credit-crunch-puts-some-farmers-tight-spot-ahead-spring-planting-season

Companies That Care: Quicken Loans Launches Program to Help Detroit Families Keep Their Homes

For years, thousands of Detroit families have faced tax foreclosure, with many losing their homes. Now, officials with Quicken Loans are doing all they can to help the Michigan residents keep their beloved roofs over their heads.

Quicken Loans snagged a spot on PEOPLE’s annual Companies That Care list in 2017 and has continued its best efforts with the “Neighbor to Neighbor” program, in which the company works with more than two dozen community organizations to help families at risk of tax foreclosure.

“The most beneficial part of this program is sustainably keeping people in their homes,” Laura Grannemann, vice president of investments for the Quicken Loans Community Investment Fund, tells PEOPLE, calling the at-risk homeowners “the most vulnerable population” in the city.

“It’s crucial that we all make sure they have access to stable housing … housing stability issues have really plagued the city of Detroit for a long time, so this is a new and exciting program that we think can start to change the trend.”

Grannemann says that thousands of Detroit renters have been put out of their homes because of landlords who failed to pay their tax bills, while low-income homeowners often miss out on tax exemptions that could help them avoid foreclosure.

“It’s not their fault that they’re in this situation,” she says.

To end the cycle, the Quicken Loans Community Investment Fund has contributed $500,000 to the program.

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“As soon as someone misses their property tax bill, we should be knocking on the door the next day,” Grannemann tells PEOPLE. “We set up this fund so we could work with individual community development corporations, community groups, churches, all across the city of Detroit in order to help us lead that direct outreach and do paid door-to-door outreach.”

She adds: “We have also been hosting workshops all around the city where we help people apply for exemptions that they might be eligible for.”

The program began in late October, and by January officials had reached about 35,000 of the 65,000 homes that are at risk of foreclosure.

“It actually works very well and I think we can reach everyone probably by February,” Grannemann says. “We strongly believe in giving back to the cities that we live, work and play in.”

Article source: http://people.com/human-interest/companies-that-care-loan-agency-helps-detroit-families-keep-homes/

Hinckley’s Lumber Yard Faces Financial Hard Times – The Vineyard Gazette

H. N. Hinckley Sons, a well-known lumber, hardware and plumbing supply business in Vineyard Haven founded more than a century ago, has fallen on hard times and could be sold at auction early next month if the owner is unable to resolve his financial problems.

A foreclosure sale is scheduled for noon on Feb. 7 at the property on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven. But Wayne Guyther 3rd, the current owner and great-grandson of the founder, said Thursday that he is working diligently to avoid an auction.

“We’re trying to work things out . . . it’s a very complicated situation,” Mr. Guyther said, speaking to the Gazette by phone Thursday morning. He said the hardware store remains open for business and he hoped to see the lumber yard back in operation shortly. “The lumber yard is still not to full capacity, but we’re working on that. We’re trying to work everything out,” Mr. Guyther said.

Among other things, Mr. Guyther, who is president and treasurer of the corporation, said he is owed more than $1 million by customers. “We’re still in the process of trying to collect,” he said.

According to a description by the auction company Paul Saperstein of Holbrook, the property includes four buildings, a two-story, 11,401-square-foot office, retail and warehouse building, a 4,000-square-foot lumber storage building, a 3,500-square-foot hardware store, and a 2,700-square-foot plumbing supply building. The 1.6-acre property is believed to be one of the largest commercial sites in town and overlooks the Vineyard Haven harbor. The assessed value is $2.5 million, according to Tisbury assessor records. The land alone is assessed at $1.58 million.

The last sale date was in 1924, the same year that H.N. Hinckley Sons was incorporated as a business, according to state land records.

The mortgage holder on the property is the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank.

An attorney for the bank said the foreclosure process is proceeding on schedule.

“At this point, the auction is proceeding,” said Thomas Vangel, who works for the Boston firm Murtha Cullina LLP.

Business founder Herbert N. Hinckley was once one of the Island’s most prominent citizens, according to newspaper clips in Gazette archives. He came to the Vineyard as a young man intent on building homes, and later, with his sons, established a lumber supply business which grew to become the largest on Martha’s Vineyard.

A story about the family patriarch in 1926 described Mr. Hinckley’s first voyage to the Island as a 24-year-old carpenter. Four years later, he began his own contracting business from humble beginnings.

“His capital consisted of $18 and the finest set of tools he could purchase,” the story reported. “At that time he owed $100 and his wife was ill. Not a cheerful outlook for a man looking for his first contract.”

Mr. Hinckley also enjoyed an active political career. He served as a state representative, a Tisbury selectman, a school board member, and was the Dukes County treasurer at the time of his death in 1939.

On Thursday morning the home center showroom was open, but outside bays once filled with lumber were almost empty. A large “Open” flag flew outside the front door of the Ace hardware store. Inside, Liz Cosgrove, granddaughter of Herbert N. Hinckley, was behind the counter, answering phones and helping customers.

Ms. Cosgrove also said the foreclosure sale of the business may not happen as scheduled.

“That’s probably not going to go through,” she said.

Article source: https://vineyardgazette.com/news/2018/01/18/hinckleys-lumber-yard-faces-financial-hard-times

The human toll of the housing crisis

THE OLD SAYING goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Dixie Mitchell raised a village.

Nine children with her late husband, Luster Mitchell. More than four dozen foster children she treated as her flesh and blood.

The life of their house in Seattle’s Central District can be measured in milestones — births, arrivals, first days at school, graduations, marriages, grandchildren and grandchildren’s children.

It has been 50 years since she and Luster purchased their big fixer-upper for about $15,000.

Memories hang on the walls like ivy in the form of family photos, knickknacks and old tools from Luster’s days building railroads and doing projects around the house.

They’d borrowed money to do expensive major improvements, using their home as collateral.

The mortgage crisis that started in 2007 and led to the economic collapse of 2008 couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Luster suffered a paralyzing stroke in 2009, leaving him unable to work and the family struggling to make loan payments, which would eventually balloon by hundreds of dollars a month as the couple scrambled to fend off foreclosure.

“It went downhill from there,” Mitchell says one night in her kitchen, as great-grandchildren go back and forth to the add-on den that Luster built himself, in part with salvaged railroad iron.

“With my husband being sick, they came and tried to snatch the house out from under me,” she says. “My hopes and dreams were to make this my castle and live happily ever after. But that didn’t happen. Hard times starting coming in, pushing and shoving.”

Mitchell is 77 and petite but with a penchant for punching above her weight class. She believes developers and banks simply wanted lower-income homeowners like her out of the fast-gentrifying neighborhood. She shoved back, publicly campaigning against predatory lending practices.

“I just went up on the corner and started walking around with signs,” she says.

 

Fueled by credit-default swaps, overextended households and pure greed, the housing crisis of a decade ago turned home prices and people’s futures upside down, literally reversing fortunes. Some ZIP codes in the three-county metro area experienced staggering foreclosure rates of 15 percent to 30 percent between 2008 and 2014.

But while the nation rebounded and the Seattle area launched into a historic economic revival driven by tech hiring, homeowners locked in the hamster wheel of personal financial devastation kept spinning, unsure how to hold on to their properties and maintain their mental health as bills piled up and foreclosure notices poured in.

African Americans, Latinos and single women over 40 disproportionately carried the burden — and stigma — of the crisis.

Dixie Mitchell, Chettie McAfee, Vera Johnson and Betsy Andrews all faced foreclosure in this time. They shared stories of humiliation, reckoning, defiance and overcoming, offering an inside perspective on the human toll taken by a downturn that tended to be described in terms of dollars and cents, value lost and gained.

All four joined forces with movements and organizations that advocated for homeowners who had defaulted on their mortgages and were at risk of losing their homes. One of the most prominent of those is Seattle-based Washington Community Action Network — Washington CAN! — which staged protests at public foreclosure auctions and at banks to keep attention on the crisis even after the Puget Sound region technically bounced back. They also worked with homeowners and newly risk-averse banks dealing with huge foreclosure backlogs to negotiate more affordable loan terms.

“Around 2012-2013, you started to hear this was not really a crisis anymore,” Washington CAN! Associate Director Chris Genese says. “For the homeowners that we were working with, they were still stuck.”

Chettie McAfee, who volunteers at Central Area Youth Association, went into foreclosure during the housing crisis and lost her home. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times)

“IT ONLY TAKES one significant event to turn your life upside down — it’s like a house of cards,” McAfee says when we meet at the Central Area Youth Association, a nonprofit where she volunteers and started a youth coding program.

McAfee, 61, displays a hard-won good humor in person. The mortgage crisis twisted her in knots. But in a strange way, it also empowered her.

When the recession hit, she was an account executive for a diagnostic-testing company in Seattle and doing well financially. McAfee says she took to heart the ethic instilled in her as an African-American child growing up in the Central District with parents who believed in the value of hard work and academic excellence: “Do your best. God will do the rest.”

Worried about her mother’s emotional well-being, McAfee had tried for years to establish a home-based senior-living facility to give her mom a social outlet. Her plan finally looked promising in 2007, when she found a house in South Seattle large enough for them to share while renting the other rooms to seniors.

It was a dream come true — six bedrooms, a view of Lake Washington, a yard out front and a fountain in back.

Then the mortgage crisis hit.

Soon after, in quick succession, her mom died, and McAfee was laid off in a company restructuring.

McAfee believes that as a veteran employee, she was the victim of age discrimination. Life was falling apart.

“It was the first time in my life that I couldn’t cope,” says McAfee, who’d also suffered a work injury that required surgery around this time. The stress drove her into a depression, but she couldn’t afford counseling.

“It was like having an out-of-body experience,” she says. “I went from gainfully employed, doing well, wonderful house, wonderful mom, to all of that was gone. I was just traumatized … To be honest with you, I’m just now coming out of it.”

Protesters hoist a banner during a Washington Community Action Network demonstration outside Seattle’s convention center, where the Rental Housing Association of Washington held its annual meeting. Network Associate Director Chris Genese (not pictured) says his group unsuccessfully fought to pass legislation to help struggling homeowners with their mortgages but says, “There wasn’t the political will.” (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times)

McAfee drew from savings to keep up with mortgage payments. In 2009, she sought a loan modification. The bank told her it couldn’t help until she missed three consecutive payments, which would have plunged her into default.

Always a careful financial planner with good credit, she was stunned by the suggestion.

“I wasn’t controlling my life anymore; it was controlling me,” she says.

McAfee followed the lender’s advice. The result was a nightmare of foreclosure notices, negotiations and “reams and reams of loan-modification documents” that seemed to amount to nothing.

Her mortgage kept getting transferred to other banks, adding to the messy paper trail.

She sought permission to short-sell the house but was told the buyer’s offer was too low.

McAfee discovered she wasn’t alone: “I realized nobody knew how to deal with the crisis.”

She’d work to keep her house while helping write loan-modification requests and legal briefs for other distressed homeowners.

A video from 2013 provided by Genese shows McAfee inside a bank lobby reading a letter to a manager detailing her frustrations and calling on the bank to do right by her. The manager tries to get McAfee to speak in private, before warning her and a group of supporters they’re trespassing.

“I just picked up my briefcase and started reading louder,” McAfee recalls.

All along, McAfee felt she was getting the runaround and even sued for negligent and deceptive behavior. She lost the case, and the house, in 2014.

Genese, who helped arrange a number of bank-branch encounters, noticed a change in McAfee and others along the way.

“People would start out a little timid, but shedding that personal guilt and acknowledging both the debtor and debtee were both culpable, you started to hear people reclaim their power,” he says. “It was incredibly touching.”

McAfee’s trying to stay positive.

“I may not have received what I was fighting for,” she says, “but I can help somebody else to not lose — that’s good enough for me.”

Betsy Andrews said it was a challenge to find a place that takes dogs, but she and Zora successfully relocated after Andrews sold her three-bedroom house to avoid a foreclosure auction. A curtain forms a bedroom inside her small West Seattle studio rental. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times)

VERA JOHNSON AND Betsy Andrews took their foreclosure activism all the way to the nation’s capital, where they joined a protest and got arrested in front of the U.S. Department of Justice in 2013, spending a night in jail.

Johnson, 48, now lives in New England. Previously, she and her family lived in a house in Southwest Seattle, where she also ran the Village Green Perennial Nursery on 2 acres she had painstakingly restored and fought to protect from development. She also held gardening workshops and hosted international travelers through a farming mentorship program there.

Speaking by phone, Johnson, a single mother of a 20-year-old and a 16-year-old, says things unraveled after her divorce from her husband in 2010.

Trying to manage mortgage payments during an economic collapse that pummeled her home’s value became a confusing, Kafka-esque ordeal.

Johnson says she too requested a loan modification, but the bank denied her for the same reason as in McAfee’s case.

For 18 months the bank lost documents, requested duplicate materials, flaked on scheduled phone calls and even blocked her from making payments in order to trigger a default, she says.

“It was just like an avalanche,” Johnson says of her experience. “It is so hard to know what’s the right thing to do.”

Johnson went public and raised more than 15,000 signatures in an online petition. She finally won a principal reduction in 2011.

She remembers what one bank representative told her: “This is the best you’re going to get, Vera. Don’t push us.”

Things only got worse.

Johnson says her loan was sold to another financial institution, which started sending intimidating late notices.

Johnson maintains she always paid on time and can prove it. She suspected lender fraud, as well as negligence by an attorney.

Twice, she had resorted to filing for bankruptcy to halt imminent foreclosure auctions. It worked the first time but not in the second instance, in 2016.

Johnson managed to scrounge up enough money to cover past-due payments, then sold the house in October of that year to keep from losing it in a foreclosure auction.

“It cost me a lot emotionally, financially and spiritually,” she says. “I consider it a victory that I was able to sell and leave.”

“I’m not just gonna be taken from and not fight back,” Johnson says. “I learned how much grit I really have.”

In West Seattle, the property that used to belong to Betsy Andrews undergoes construction. A casualty of the Great Recession and mortgage crisis, Andrews now lives in a small West Seattle studio rental. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times)

ANDREWS, 58, LIVES in a reduced-rent studio with her border collie Zora and works as an instructional assistant at a Seattle middle school.

In 2003, she bought a cottage in the Admiral neighborhood of West Seattle after a divorce. The house would be a home for her and her son, who was in the seventh grade, as well as her nest egg.

“My house had a name — Chez Betsina,” Andrews says when we meet in downtown Seattle.

She displayed a sign with that name on it so everyone could see.

Andrews refinanced her mortgage in 2006, this time opting for a riskier, interest-only, variable-rate loan. Then in 2008, as the economic collapse gathered steam, her father died, and her ex-husband, who was helping to support their son, went on strike at Boeing. Andrews’ household income dropped sharply, making it hard to pay the mortgage.

Betsy Andrews points to the West Seattle location of her former house, which she had nicknamed “Chez Betsina,” on a map. She can’t bring herself to go back there. “I miss my yard. I loved my garden,” Andrews says. “I thought I was gonna stay there forever — things don’t always work out.” (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times)

To save the house, she filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which halted foreclosure proceedings and allowed her to keep paying her mortgage through garnished wages.

But in 2012, Andrews was laid off. With no paycheck to draw funds from, the bankruptcy was dismissed. Andrews was back at square one, at risk of foreclosure.

As the job market slumped, Andrews bumped along with short-term teaching gigs, withdrawing from her retirement savings to make ends meet. She signed up for welding classes, thinking she’d switch careers.

Medical bills from an illness in 2013 compounded her hardship even as she fought to relieve other homeowners of theirs.

She was at her wit’s end by early 2016, as foreclosure seemed more certain.

“When they foreclose on you, they post it on the outside of your house,” Andrews says of the legal notices attached to distressed properties.

Her private financial disaster would be evident to anyone who passed the house.

The “Chez Betsina” sign wasn’t a source of pride anymore. She chucked it over the blackberry bushes in her backyard.

“I just felt like I had no control over my life,” she said recently in a text exchange.

Betsy Andrews sheds a tear while talking about “Chez Betsina,” the three-bedroom house she loved and was forced to sell days before it was to be auctioned off in foreclosure proceedings. “They gutted the middle class,” she says of financial institutions during the mortgage crisis. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times)

She sold the house in December 2016, days before it was scheduled to be auctioned, clearing her debt.

“I thought I was gonna stay there forever, but things don’t always work out,” Andrews says. “I’ve got my dignity,” at least.

Andrews still slips and calls her former home “my house,” but she can’t bring herself to drive by the property.

She hopes to renew her teaching certification to qualify for a better-paying job, but she doesn’t believe she’ll be able to retire at 65.

“Our culture is, once you stumble, it just cycles — one thing after another,” Andrews says. “I don’t show up in statistics anymore because I’m employed. But I’m way underemployed now.

“I lost my house and got thrown into a market where nobody can afford to rent.”

Andrews says her students offer an emotional refuge from the grief and regrets associated with losing her home.

Her other savior has been the connections she’s made as an activist.

She remembers participating in a demonstration at a public foreclosure auction and breaking down in tears over the spectacle of people’s dreams, not unlike her own, picked over and purchased by the highest bidders.

“It’s my obligation to speak about it,” she says. “What about the people who are too ashamed to come forward?”

Genese says his group helped secure loan modifications for five homeowners and slowed the foreclosure process for dozens of others to help them recover. His biggest regret is that they couldn’t keep more people in their homes. Two of the five homeowners they helped eventually lost their properties.

With soaring rents and gentrification front-and-center, Washington CAN! now focuses on pushing for renter’s rights, including policies to protect renters from excessive fees and unfair evictions.

During a recent Washington CAN! march, Mia Franklin, center, of Federal Way, protests for tenant rights with others in Seattle’s Freeway Park, near a Rental Housing Association conference. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times)

KILDARE, TEXAS, said goodbye to Dixie and Luster Mitchell, and their three children at the time, in 1962.

“We moved from Texas because it was so Jim Crow,” Mitchell says of her migration to Seattle.

As a black child in the South, she attended segregated schools.

In soft-spoken Seattle the couple discovered subtler forms of racism, such as redlining, a practice by lenders and real estate agents to keep black homebuyers out of white neighborhoods, effectively confining them to the Central District.

The couple held on for decades as the largely black CD turned majority white.

Then came the mortgage crisis and subsequent publicity as Mitchell, a former Boeing worker, took on the role of activist, even appearing alongside then-Gov. Christine Gregoire.

Mitchell staged protests and news conferences on her lawn.

She lay in the street to keep an ailing West Seattle man from being forcibly removed from his foreclosed home.

She shared her plight on MSNBC as a face of the foreclosure crisis.

Memories adorn the walls of Dixie Mitchell’s Central District house, which she successfully fought to keep as bills piled up after her late husband Luster’s stroke, which coincided with the financial collapse and mortgage crisis. Included are the saws brought from Texas by Luster, who used them to cut railway ties. (Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times)

Through it all — including the successful treatment of her cancer in 2010 — Mitchell says she and Luster paid what they could on the loan, with the rest going to essentials for the family.

Her plight swelled into a nationwide campaign, but there were critics, who spread rumors about how the couple came to be tens of thousands of dollars behind.

“It was stressful — being a person that didn’t do anything but go to church and try to take care of kids and have people calling you all sorts of things,” she says.

In October 2011, while holding a demonstration in her front yard, she took a phone call while everyone watched. After much stonewalling, her bank was ready to modify her loan terms.

Mitchell thanks God for answering her prayers about saving the house (with a lot of Earthbound assistance), days before a scheduled auction. Paying the bills on her fixed income, with relatives pitching in, continues to be a struggle, though.

Luster died on New Year’s Day 2017, a little over a year ago. He would have turned 83 this month.

Mitchell says her husband was proud of her for fighting but not surprised.

“He knew that I don’t take no crap,” she tells me.

“They can take my heart, but they can’t take my house.”

Article source: https://www.seattletimes.com/pacific-nw-magazine/the-human-toll-of-the-housing-crisis/

Open space but no conservation easement planned for Traveller’s Rest property

Andrew Hertneky, the managing partner for a new group of investors in a 680-acre tract of mostly pristine land less than two miles from Middleburg said his new entity purchased the property so it wouldnt fall into the hands of someone who might have wanted to slice it up and would have had a pure economic interest in dividing it as much as they could.

Hertneky, a long-time executive in the energy industry on the West Coast who now lives in Marshall, said in a telephone interview that his new company  Middleburg Land 1 LLC  plans to keep the land once owned by Travellers Rest LLC between 70 and 75 percent open space, though it will not be placed in conservation easement.

The people involved in this are horse people, he saidThey would like to see as much of the property preserved as possible. 

Travellers Rest, owned by T. Nelson Gunnell and Alfred Rogers Smithwick, both of Middleburg, had filed for Chapter 11 protection last June 16 to avoid foreclosure on the property.  Last month, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Eastern District of Virginia took Travellers Rest out of bankruptcy when Hertnekys group secured an $8.5 million loan from The Fauquier Bank and paid off the creditors.

Gunnell is the founder and co-owner of the nearby Banbury Cross polo facility along U.S. 50 just east of the village that is not part of the 680 acres. The $8.5 million loan was recorded at the courthouse in Leesburg on Dec. 28.

Hertnekys group has the by-right ability to place as many as 38 homes, most of them in a cluster of three- and four-acre lots, on a parcel of land near the intersection of Sam Fred Road and U.S. 50. He said there would be a large amount of open space around the cluster of upscale dwellings and well try to keep the homes away from the roads.

He also indicated the new company has the right to sell at least two more large properties of several hundred acres each.

Wed like to maintain the property so that a majority of it can be used by the hunts,said Hertneky, an avid polo player and fox hunter who is a member of the Old Dominion Hounds. Well have deed-restricted horse trails. There will always be trails that will be maintained with covenants in perpetuity.

He also added his group has no plans to ask Loudoun County for any zoning changes or variances on the property.

We had two choices here, he said. Have a national home builder divide it up, or we could have local people and conserve the property as much as possible and be able to pay off the bankruptcy.

Hertneky declined to identify other investors for now, though Stanley Settle, a long-time land acquisition specialist for Pulte Homes, will manage the development of the property.

According to the bankruptcy court filing, Hertneky will be compensated by receiving a 2 percent guarantee fee, as well as a commission on the total gross sales of property. That includes, for sales up to $15 million, 1 percent; for sales between $15 million and $20 million, 2.5 percent and for sales over $20 million, 5 percent.  Settle will be paid a 1.5 percent commission on the total gross sales of property.

Hertneky offered no timetable for  beginning or completing work on the property, but other sources in the local real estate industry have said a number of engineering studies still must be completed on the site involving soil, water and other items before any ground can be broken. VDOT  has to approve any plans involving access via Sam Fred Road and U.S. 50.

Several conservation groups also are paying close attention to the development plans for the property, including the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) and Goose Creek Association.

What he (Hertneky) is proposing is an aggressive interpretation of his zoning rights under the current code, said Chris Miller, president of the PEC. Every effort ought to be made to produce real conservation of this property. We certainly will be monitoring the situation and any actions theyre going to take.

Lori McGuinness, co-chair of the Goose Creek Association, said her conservation group also has been following the situation.

This really highlights the importance of conservation easement, she said, because large farms like this are catnip to developers. 

Article source: http://www.fauquier.com/news/open-space-but-no-conservation-easement-planned-for-traveller-s/article_f4eb5f6a-fb98-11e7-bd38-1f3a98ec6cd9.html

Judge will decide whether Frank White or prosecutor controls anti-drug sales tax funds

The Jackson County Legislature is asking a judge to enforce its recent ordinance that transfers control of the anti-drug and anti-violence agency COMBAT from County Executive Frank White to the prosecuting attorney’s office.

White has ignored the legislature’s wishes since that body overrode his veto of the ordinance, prompting something of a crisis within some parts of county government.

Last week, the deputy chief of the finance department was put on paid leave after refusing to transfer funds out of COMBAT at White’s direction to partly cover the salaries of White aides whose positions the legislature eliminated.

In filing the suit, the legislature set aside for now a proposal from legislator Dan Tarwater to ask the Missouri attorney general to intervene and look at a range of other issues, including questions about White’s eligibility to run for office in 2016, as well as a secret deal to save his house from foreclosure.

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The Star reported last week that White swore “under penalties of perjury” that all his state and local taxes were current when he declared his candidacy in 2016 for county executive when in fact he was past due in paying his 2013 state income taxes. White said it was an oversight.

Last month the newspaper reported that a political supporter who does business with the county quietly helped White avoid losing his house to foreclosure in 2016, which Tarwater and others said raised at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Tarwater said he still has the five votes he would need to ask for Attorney General Josh Hawley’s assistance. But for now he said the court action would lead to a faster resolution on who controls COMBAT, which he said was more pressing than White’s personal issues.

Plus, he said Hawley would likely refer any investigation of White’s financial issues to Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, who he said “is still looking at things.”

Legislator Crystal Williams said in filing its own court action, the county will get clear guidance on who controls COMBAT and its $20 million budget. The agency distributes funds collected through a countywide sales tax to law enforcement and non-profit groups that treat and deter drug abuse and violent crime.

“The attorney general is going to want a judge’s opinion the way we want a judge’s opinion,” she said.

News of the lawsuit broke at the close of Monday’s legislative meeting, during which legislators voted to set aside $250,000 for county agencies to hire outside attorneys to deal with this and other issues if needed.

Referring to the COMBAT court filing, chairman Scott Burnett said he and the eight other members of the legislature have “a moral obligation” to see that taxpayer dollars are being spent as the legislature intended.

“It is unfortunate the legislature is having to take legal action to enforce an ordinance passed by this body since the county executive continues to ignore the current rule of law,” Burnett said in a written statement.

White was not at the meeting, White later issued a written statement that did not respond directly to the legislature’s lawsuit but welcomed a resolution.

“Despite numerous warnings,” White said “the Legislature has continued to ignore the significant legal issues surrounding the oversight of COMBAT, which has led to uncertainty and confusion among staff and the community. Therefore, it is important we have a resolution to this issue as quickly as possible, but it must be done appropriately.”

He did not explain what might have been inappropriate about the legislature filing suit.

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Frank White’s finances

The Jackson County executive and former Kansas City Royal has experienced financial problems.

Neil Nakahodo, Mike Hendricks, Keith Myers

The Kansas City Star

Mike Hendricks: 816-234-4738, @kcmikehendricks

Article source: http://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article194991254.html

Regions Bank expands free money counseling service to St. Louis, Belleville branches

Regions Bank is opening new Hope Inside free credit and money management counseling centers in two more St. Louis area bank branches. 

The Birmingham, Ala.-based bank recently announced an expanded partnership with Operation Hope, an Atlanta-based nonprofit. Through the partnership, Regions said it plans to open 100 Hope Inside offices in its bank branches in the Midwest, Southeast and Texas in the next few years to help people avoid foreclosure, launch businesses and raise their credit scores.  

This spring, Regions plans to open Hope Inside centers at its branch at 4706 S. Kingshighway Boulevard in St. Louis and at 4800 W. Main Street in Belleville. Regions Bank opened a Hope Inside center at 11920 New Halls Ferry Road in Florissant in 2015 that offers free financial counseling to individuals and business owners. 

“Since opening our first local Hope Inside office in 2015, we have seen incredible success stores from people who were able to take charge of their finances, improve their credit scores and reach their financial goals,” Mike Hart, Regions’ Midwest area president, said in a statement. 

Article source: http://www.stltoday.com/business/local/regions-bank-expands-free-money-counseling-service-to-st-louis/article_a05c546a-d1c0-5a17-885d-84db19ee3654.html

Legislators want Missouri attorney general to look at Frank White’s taxes, finances

The political chaos enveloping Jackson County is expected to take another turn next week as county legislators plan to ask Missouri’s attorney general to investigate a number of issues surrounding County Executive Frank White.

Among some legislators’ concerns is The Star’s finding that when White filed for office in 2016 he signed a sworn document declaring that he was current on all state and local taxes. But the newspaper’s review of court documents show White owed more than $5,000 in back state income taxes at the time.

Records show that those taxes, dating back to 2013, weren’t paid until April 15, 2016 — two months after he filed for office and swore that his taxes were paid.

That gap is important because Missouri office-seekers are required to testify that they are “not currently aware” of any delinquent state or local taxes. Candidates who are behind on their taxes are disqualified from running for office. Lying on the form is perjury.

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White acknowledged on Friday that he misstated his tax situation when he signed Department of Revenue Form 5120, but said it was unintentional.

“In 2016, when I signed the form, I did so honestly and in full compliance of the law,” White said in an email. “When I later became aware that I owed taxes for a prior year, I immediately paid the amount in full and moved forward.”

It’s too early to say whether authorities would take action to remove White from office for that supposed oversight alone.

But it’s just one of several issues that county legislators will likely ask Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley to investigate when the legislature meets on Tuesday, key legislators said.

Legislator Dan Tarwater said a majority of legislators are in favor of Hawley stepping in.

Tarwater also wants Hawley to follow up on The Star’s Dec. 22 article that described a secret deal to save White’s house from foreclosure in the spring of 2016. At the time, White was the interim county executive and seeking election to the office in his own right. He turned to his predecessor, former county executive Mike Sanders, and Sanders’ law partner Ken McClain for help one day before his house was to be sold on the courthouse steps.

Sources, including one with direct knowledge of the deal, told The Star that the foreclosure was averted when McClain funneled an undetermined amount of money to White through an unidentified third party. That person loaned the Whites enough to cover delinquent mortgage payments.

The reason for the pass-through arrangement is unclear, but Tarwater and others saw it as possibly an attempt to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest because McClain does business with the county. Sanders was then under contract with the county to provide legal advice, as well.

Neither Sanders, who is under federal investigation for his alleged participation in a kickback scheme, nor McClain would comment for last month’s article.

White declined to provide an explanation on how he avoided the foreclosure.

Tarwater, a Democrat, and Republican legislator Greg Grounds said at the time that the public deserved full disclosure on the house deal.

“The air needs to be cleared,” Tarwater said Friday.

Tarwater has made no secret of his desire to become county executive whenever White steps aside, but he said his intent in asking for an investigation is not to have White removed from office.

“I don’t want to see anybody lose his position,” Tarwater said, “but on the other hand I don’t want to see anyone lose the trust of the taxpayers.”

Legislators say trust in county government has broken down in recent months as the feud between White and the legislature has intensified. Employees have been caught in the middle. Some were disciplined for violating what they perceive as White’s unlawful directives ordering them to divert funds to pay the salaries of aides, whose positions the legislature ordered eliminated.

“Great employees, who’ve survived all manner of political dysfunction over the years, are suffering under this administration,” legislator Crystal Williams tweeted Thursday. “An extraordinary amount of upheaval underway at my beloved county.”

Legislators complain that White continues to ignore the will of that governing body by defying recently passed ordinances that White sees as challenging his authority.

White said the ordinances are illegal. And legislators have challenged him to prove that in court.

Legislator Dennis Waits said those issues are more important to him than White’s taxes and finances, but doesn’t object to Tarwater’s insistence that those personal issues be looked at.

“Essentially what they (White and his staff) are doing is ignoring anything the legislature is dictating,” Waits said.

Legislators say White has abused his power by ignoring their wishes on spending matters and by refusing to hand over control of COMBAT, the county’s anti-drug and anti-violence effort, even after the legislature has voted to transfer that authority to Jean Peters Baker, the elected county prosecutor.

White recently asked the state auditor to examine the county’s finances to settle some of the disagreements, which legislative chairman Scott Burnett readily endorsed. But so far no audit has begun.

“We have been in contact with the State Auditor’s Office regarding the County Executive’s recommendation,” White’s spokesperson, Marshanna Hester, said Friday in an email, “but by law, the request must come from the Legislature. We are working with the Legislature in hopes that it will do so immediately.”

White was elected to the legislature in 2014 and served one year before resigning that seat to replace Sanders as the county’s top official. When he was appointed in January of 2016, he had the unanimous endorsement of the other eight legislators — six fellow Democrats and two Republicans — all of whom still hold office.

They didn’t know he was behind on his taxes at the time — including $80,000 he and his wife owed the IRS — and no one asked.

In addition to the unpaid state taxes, records show he was also delinquent on his local property taxes when he was sworn in: Two weeks past due in paying more than $500 in personal property taxes on his 2008 Ford pickup and more than a year delinquent on some of the $1,000 in real estate taxes he and his wife owed on his boyhood home in the 2900 block of Olive Street.

When two of his top aides discovered he was behind on his local property taxes, one of them told The Star, they dug into their own banking accounts to pay the delinquent local taxes, in cash. County property records show the payments were made separately, on Feb. 17 and 18, 2016, five days before White filed for office.

Their intent was to help White truthfully sign the form on which candidates swear they are current on their taxes. However, the state income tax bill remained outstanding.

Baker has the power to initiate removal proceedings for violations of election laws. Several years ago, she threatened to initiate such an action against then-legislator James Tindall, who was unqualified to serve because he was a convicted felon, but he resigned rather than fight it.

White’s failure to declare his tax liability when filing for election falls under another provision of the same law.

Baker’s office is currently investigating White’s situation, but it’s unclear where she is in the process.

“It would be inappropriate to comment at this time,” spokesman Mike Mansur said.

Mike Hendricks: 816-234-4738, @kcmikehendricks

Article source: http://www.kansascity.com/news/politics-government/article194523289.html