Local Move On Council protests bank foreclosures

By Olivia Willoughby

Members of the local Move On Council braved freezing winds to protest against banks foreclosing homes during the last four years.

The members waved signs at passing traffic by the entrance of the Wal-Mart and Lowe’s parking lots on Sycamore Road Sunday. Their signs warned drivers about what the group claims is a hidden foreclosure crisis in DeKalb County.

“The reason we’re out here is because in the last four years, one in 10 homes in DeKalb County has been foreclosed,” said Richard Gallati, core member and recruitment coordinator for the Move On DeKalb Sycamore Council.

Gallati said in 2011, about 2,719 homes were foreclosed. This includes single family as well as duplex homes. Gallati also said several “super banks” – Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Co., Wells Fargo, and Citibank – left several residents homeless or forced to move in with relatives.

“The [banks] were bailed out three-quarters of a trillion dollars and are turning around and forcing your neighbors in DeKalb County out of their homes,” Gallati said. “Nobody in the local government has said anything about it. It’s news to them.”

Another member of Move On, Bill Weiss, said he was also concerned about the overlooked foreclosure issue in the county.

“There’s a move by the government to let the banks off of their responsibility by allowing them to pay $25 billion,” Weiss said. “This is in order to pay responsibility for their part in the foreclosure crisis. But banks made trillions and left us with $750 billion under water, and to let them off with $25 billion is crazy.”

Although she is not a member of Move On, Julie Kiefer-Bells, of DeKalb, said she believes the crisis would not have happened were the Federal Consumer Protection Bureau (FCP) around years ago.

Kiefer-Bells said the FCP helps teach consumers about risks associated with asking for credit.

Kiefer-Bells said it is too easy to misunderstand the fine print. This is why several homeowners believed their incomes would rise.

“But that didn’t come out to be true,” Kiefer-Bells said. “They started losing jobs, and that’s why so many who were innocent and believed those things could not handle the mortgage amount. It’s heart-breaking to skim through the classifieds and see so many homes for sale.”

Kiefer-Bells also said she never moved up in housing, unlike others who lost their homes in the crisis. Instead of cashing in her home to get the equity, she tried other ways to cover bills.

The group also rallied to bring attention to the fact that foreclosed residents can get help.

“Nobody talks about this,” Gallati said. “These federal and state programs are very low key. There are local programs in the region, but nothing in DeKalb County. We’re trying very hard to get some local numbers.”

Making Home Affordable advises foreclosed residents on what papers to have and how to approach being foreclosed.

On a state level, Gallati said residents should look at the Illinois Hardest Hit program.

“They have two types of assistance,” Gallati said. “Reinstatement assistance is where the agency pays mortgage arrearages, fees and penalties. The second is monthly mortgage payment assistance to pay up to 100 percent of your mortgage up to 18 months.”

According to the program’s website, homeowners must make monthly contributions to the Illinois Housing Development.

Apart from these federal and state programs, Gallati focused on bringing attention to local help.

“We’re going to divide six months of foreclosed homes – about 760 houses from 2011,” Gallati said. “We’re going to walk to each house and distribute brochures [about federal, state and local programs].”

While many of their concerns target homeowners, Kiefer-Bells said students should get a head start on understanding the issue.

“The importance of reaching out to students is to get them to think and witness [the crisis],” Kiefer-Bells said. “Students have to start recognizing how this could have been avoided. College students have to do their research and see what’s best for the good of all.”