Editorial feature in The Times Ledger
By Ivan Pereira
State Sen. Shirley Huntley (D-Jamaica) was fed up with the lack of action on the growing foreclosure crisis and decided to take matters into her own hands. On Friday, the senator revealed that she put her own home into foreclosure to experience the plight that many of her constituents faced over the last couple of months.
"I once heard the governor say foreclosures aren't easy to deal with because they don't have a face. Well, we have a face now," she said Although she was able to afford the payments for her home, Huntley deliberately stopped paying her mortgage payments in November. The senator recalled that she did not receive any notices from her loan company, Wells Fargo, for the delinquencies and it initially looked like nothing was wrong.
On Feb. 7, she received a notice of pendency stating that her house was legally under foreclosure until she paid off her debts.
"Mortgage companies are supposed to let their borrowers know if they will be defaulted. She never received a notice of default. She never received a notice of summons," said Huntley's attorney, Howard Birnbach, who did not find out about her foreclosure until last Thursday.
Huntley said she and her husband, Herbert, sought help from the company themselves, but to no avail. Every time they called customer service to talk to a representative, the senator said she was either put on hold, told to dial another extension or got turned away.
"When I called there was no one I could talk to that knew anything," she said.
A spokesman from Wells Fargo said it did promptly respond to the senator's situation and do so for all their clients.
"Our records indicate that in the senator's situation, our policies were followed. Numerous attempts were made to contact the Huntleys by both telephone and mail in the months leading up to the actual notice of foreclosure," spokesman Jason Menke said in an e-mailed statement.
When the senator did get in touch with someone, she and her husband learned that they would have to pay not only for the three months of missed payments, but also for the amount due for March.
"I said, 'I can pay all of [the missed payments] so why do I have to pay for March?' They said that was what needed to be done," the senator recalled.
Huntley said she had been thinking of taking on the foreclosure problem firsthand for a long time, but was hesitant to put her family through the process. She changed her mind in November when two single mothers from Jamaica knocked on her office door with nothing but suitcases after they had lost their home and had no where to go.
"It was so heart-wrenching to see them like that. After helping them, I decided to do it," she said Foreclosure victim Edwardo Vasquez of Jamaica said he was proud that the senator came to bat for homeowners like him.
"It's the best thing for people in the area. She makes a difference because she has good ideas," he said.
Although Huntley said she will pay all the missed payments and fines before the March 11 deadline, she said her ordeal alone gave her more reason to push for legislation in the state Senate to help victims. The senator called on her fellow leaders to call for a one-year moratorium on foreclosures resulting from subprime loans.
"It'll help people regroup and find ways to get out of the problem. They can either refinance or have enough time to sell their home," she said.
She also urged residents to take advantage of the upcoming forum on March 1 for the city's "Operation Protect Your Home" initiative at the Campus Magnet High School, 207-01 116th Ave., in Cambria. Hosted by fellow state Senate Democrats, the forum will enable residents to discuss their financial issues with representatives from the state and city's banking departments.
For more information, call 718-322-2537