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Stuck in Mortgage Limbo

After facing foreclosure threats, local family agrees to a payment plan with Bank of America

Lorenzo and Elia Santana (shown here with their daughters) may have finally defused a foreclosure threat.
Lorenzo and Elia Santana (shown here with their daughters) may have finally defused a foreclosure threat.

 

In the last week of his life, the medical bills for Elia Santana’s uninsured father were about $12,000; Elia and her husband, Lorenzo, spent another $4,200 for the funeral. At that time, in early 2008, the Santanas knew they couldn’t pay for everything at once, so they dutifully called their mortgage lender, Countrywide, to say that the $1,026 monthly payment on their modest two-bedroom bungalow three blocks from Midway Airport would be late. They ended up missing four payments.

Despite making several attempts to pay the outstanding balance, the couple spent 18 months facing the constant threat of foreclosure—all while confronting tangled rules, conflicting deadlines, and confusing chains of command at the lender (which is now part of Bank of America). This spring the tale took a genuinely Kafkaesque turn: After working for several months with Katie Van Tiem, of Neighborhood Housing Services—an organization that helps people buy and hang on to affordable homes—the Santanas submitted a stack of completed paperwork to the bank in hopes of getting their loan modified to fit their changed circumstances.

“We got a call saying they had Elia’s middle initial on some forms, but no initial on others,” Van Tiem recalls. “I said, ‘No problem. We can fix that and re-submit.’ But we were told, ‘No, you have to start over from the beginning.’”

Meanwhile, the Santanas held in savings some of the mortgage money they owed—a difficult task, considering their modest circumstances. Both Mexican immigrants, they are struggling to keep afloat financially. She’s a dialysis technician, now unemployed, and he’s a drywall installer struggling to find jobs in a stalled construction market. Together they support two school-age daughters, Elia’s 80-year-old mother, and two adolescent nephews in Mexico whose parents both died in the past three years.

“These are things family has to do,” Elia Santana says at the dining room table of the small home that she and her husband bought for $120,000 in 1998, when they had both been in this country for less than a decade. It is their single biggest asset, but Elia acknowledges that she hardly sleeps at night for fear that it’s going to be taken away.

Those fears may finally be receding. In August, Van Tiem helped the Santanas arrange a payment plan with Bank of America that should put the situation to rest. At presstime, the deal had not been finalized, but it appeared that, in Van Tiem’s words, this particular story “might be near a happy ending.”

 

Photograph by Bob Coscarelli; photo assistant: Kacper Skowron

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