Banks back off
Activists vow to continue until bank signs deal
Nearly 100 people gathered at William and Bertha Garrett’s home Jan. 31 to fight their eviction. The couple has been married for 45 years and have lived in the home for 22 years.
ERIC T. CAMPBELL PHOTO
Published Sun, Feb 05, 2012
By Eric T. Campbell
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — Nearly 100 local activists and community members gathered outside the home of William and Bertha Garrett the evening of Jan. 31 to celebrate the couple’s victory against eviction from their home.
After months of stonewalling, representatives from the Bank of New York/Mellon Trust Co. agreed to enter into a purchase agreement with the Garretts for the amount of the foreclosure — $12,000.
“It was the pressure that was the difference,” says Garrett family attorney, Eric Wein. “It was a wonderful call I got saying that they relented. We’ve got to get this in writing quick before the banks change their minds.”
The Garretts received a final eviction notice Jan. 26 giving them five days to leave the premises. The letter came after a year-long struggle to reclaim their home of 22 years from a bank foreclosure.
The five-day window proved to be just enough time for grassroots activists to organize a campaign to keep the Garretts in their home, says the Garretts’ daughter Michelle Finely, who contacted this paper in a last-ditch effort to save her parents’ home.
Up until December 2011, the Garretts thought they were still in negotiations with the bank to reclaim the mortgage. Finley says the family was told by the bank in October they could buy the house for $12,000 — the price at which it was sold during the sheriff’s sale in December 2010.
“We were just asking the bank for compassion and more time,” Finley told the Michigan Citizen. “We could get the money together if the bank would make or accept an offer.”
The Garretts sold off what they could, borrowed money from family members and raised $9,000. But the bank, through O’Connor Realty, later appraised the home to determine a higher purchase price.
In an e-mail response to local coverage, Bank of New York/Mellon spokesperson Kevin Heine stated he wanted to clarify that the bank is the “acting trustee for the Garrett’s loan, which is part of a pool of mortgage-backed securitizations.”
The bank was not involved directly with the way the Garretts’ home was foreclosed on or in how the eviction process proceeded, Heine told the Michigan Citizen. Integrated Asset Services handled the eviction proceedings for State Bridge Mortgage Co., which managed the Garrett foreclosure.
On Jan. 26, 2011 — the day after her parents received the final eviction notice — Finley called this newspaper for assistance. That decision set off a chain of events that evolved overnight into a mass protest action.
When the Michigan Citizen visited the Garrett home Jan. 27, Bertha told this reporter that the prospect of leaving the house led directly to a steady decline in her husband’s health. Until a botched laser surgery procedure took the sight in one of his eyes, William was the proprietor of a unisex salon on the lower west side. Since the sheriff’s sale of the house, he has suffered four strokes, the last of which occurred Oct. 9. He now suffers from what doctors called an aneurysm.
William Garrett now depends on the layout of the house, which he knows intimately, to get around.
The elderly couple relies on their fixed income, from disability and social security, of $684 a month to take care of themselves.
“I don’t know how we can pack a lifetime of stuff by Monday,” Bertha Garrett told the Michigan Citizen.
“We’ve put so much into this house,” added William Garrett. “We’ve raised kids here, and to know we’re getting put out on the streets…”
Members of Occupy Detroit, Homes Before Banks and Moratorium NOW! met at 1515 Broadway Jan. 28 to discuss the Garrett’s case after an Occupy Detroit General Assembly meeting. After meeting Jan. 29 at the Garrett home, several members of those groups decided to stage a 24-hour vigil at the Garretts’ home to contest any eviction actions by the Wayne County Sheriff. They managed to obstruct the dumpster company Monday morning with parked cars and themselves standing in the way of the dumpster truck.
By early morning Jan. 31, local news outlets had picked up the story and were arriving at the Garretts’ home.
Bertha Garrett and daughter Michelle, supported by Rev. Charles Williams, Sr. and Occupy Detroit attorney Bob Day, entered the Detroit offices of the Bank of New York that afternoon, still hoping to negotiate a purchase agreement. Over 30 foreclosure activists rallied outside.
“What we’re trying to do is, stop the eviction, call off the dumpster, allow us to negotiate for the Garretts to buy their house back,” Day told the Michigan Citizen in front of the Dime Building, where the Bank of New York operates on the ninth floor. “You’ve got one of the largest banks in the country, worth billions and billions of dollars, giving this family a hard time over two or three thousands dollars — it’s crazy. Mr. Garrett’s in very serious condition and there’s no need for this.”
Rev. Charles Williams, Sr. says the family was negotiating in good faith.
“What kind of corporation would do this to a family in this type of shape when the family is willing to negotiate in good faith?”
Later Tuesday afternoon, Wein received a phone call from bank representatives willing to establish a purchase agreement with the Garretts.
Wein told the Michigan Citizen that lawyers for Bank of New York/Mellon Trust Co. specifically requested that the protests end as a condition for further negotiations. The family and Occupy Detroit members say they will continue to rally until the papers are signed.
“They want the dogs called off,” daughter Michelle says. “They’re now showing good faith, but we’re keeping a vigil at the house. We’re not stopping the protest until the papers are signed.”