Editorial feature in The Queens Courier
BY TERRY CHUN
In the months leading into November 2007, State Senator Shirley Huntley had been hearing numerous horror stories from constituents facing foreclosure. Some of the stories were familiar, told by individuals that could not make their mortgage payments in a faltering economy.
However, she was especially chagrined to hear other stories that described mortgage lenders more eager to foreclose on people that had fallen behind on their mortgages rather than help them stay in their homes. Some of the homeowners did not even know they would lose their houses until they received the foreclosure proceedings papers.
Therefore, in November 2007, Huntley decided to stop paying her own mortgage to check if the stories were true. Then she waited to see if her own lender, Wells Fargo, would issue a default notice or offer her payment options before it would seize the senator’s home.
On February 7, Huntley received foreclosure papers. In the 3 months prior to the notice, Huntley watched as the monthly amount due on her mortgage grew, aided by additional late fees. Nevertheless, she claims she never received any interim delinquency warnings.
Replicating the plight of her constituents, she then sent the lender her personal income information and called Wells Fargo to review her options for forestalling foreclosure. The lender responded by emphasizing that the senator had enough monthly income to pay her mortgage.
Huntley was flabbergasted since she had not even finished explaining her financial circumstances. “You have no idea what my other financial obligations are,” she recalled saying to the Wells Fargo representative.
In an email response, Wells Fargo claimed they had tried several times to contact Huntley about her delinquency problems.
“Wells Fargo sincerely apologizes if the Senator feels the service she received was less than optimal. We appreciate and share Senator Huntley’s concerns about foreclosure-related issues. We work hard to keep customers in their homes, whenever possible, when they experience financial difficulties,” wrote Jason Menke, a spokesperson for Wells Fargo.
In 1971, the senator conducted a similar experiment by posing as a welfare recipient for several days in response to complaints that the city’s Department of Social Services was “unhelpful” when Jamaica residents filed for welfare benefits, asking them to return on different days and delaying the application process. The city later restructured the welfare process after she revealed her frustrations with the city agency, said Huntley.
Although she dodged foreclosure by sending a certified check before the March 10 deadline, she hopes that the results of her mortgage experiment will “shed light on the foreclosure process” and lend support to bills pending in the state legislature - such as the legislative package sponsored by Governor Spitzer last week - that would grant homeowners relief by imposing a yearlong moratorium on all foreclosures.