Documentary puts a vivid face on foreclosures

By 
Gal Tziperman Lotan, Special to the Reporter
Jan. 20, 2011

Marshall Cooper, 75, lives in an off-white house with dark green trim on Hartford Street. The house is decorated colorful trinkets: A snowman, a football, a pumpkin, and American flags. It’s also covered with protest signs, which Cooper said people often stop and read.

Last spring, the bank foreclosed on Cooper’s house. He’s gotten eviction notices, but says he’s not going anywhere.

Cooper and his wife Ada bought the house for $163,000 in the late 1990s, shortly after he retired, so he would have a place to care for his sick parents. The bank turned him down for a traditional loan and referred him to another lender.

The alternative lender asked Cooper if he had a job, and Cooper replied that he had just retired but his wife was still working as a bus driver. They were approved for a loan at an 11 percent interest rate and moved to Hartford Street.

At first, Cooper could make the $1,210 monthly payments. Then the amount ballooned to $1,740 a month, and his parents got sicker. The bank told Cooper he did not qualify for loan modification and foreclosed April 8, 2010. By then, Registry of Deeds records show, Cooper owed the bank $319,241.81.

He is working with the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau and City Life/Vida Urbana to stay on Hartford Street.
High foreclosure rates can have hit Dorchester harder than the rest of the city – in 2008, about two-thirds of the houses on Hendry Street were foreclosed on. Still, more than 80 percent of foreclosed properties in Boston are in Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury, said Patricia Hanratty, president of Aura Mortgage Advisors and NSP Residential. And the average interest rate for mortgages going through foreclosure is a staggering 12 percent, Hanratty said.

Lenders are now filling fewer petitions to foreclose statewide, according to The Warren Group, which tracks local real estate information. But many, like Cooper, are still facing eviction.

Homeowners behind on their mortgage payments and people who want to learn more about the fallout from the sub-prime mortgage crisis can attend two upcoming local events.

Boston and Revere residents who have a stable income but are still facing foreclosure can attend a foreclosure relief seminar held by Stabilizing Urban Neighborhoods (SUN).

SUN, a $50 million Boston Community Capital initiative, will buy the foreclosed properties of qualified candidates from the banks and sell them back to their previous owners with a fixed-rate mortgage.
“So many people are being displaced” said Hanratty, who is helping run the program. “Our goal is to help people save their homes.”

Qualified candidates must have a stable income, which could come from work, a pension, or Social Security. SUN also considers hardships candidates have faced, like unemployment, a high-rate mortgage, or personal problems.

The free seminar will be today (Thursday, Jan, 20) from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Holland Community Center, 85 Olney St. Food will be served. For more information, call 617-933-5880.

Foreclosures impact more than the families losing their homes. When repeated efforts to refinance fail and a bank takes possession of a property, owners and residents of nearby properties feel the effects as well.

“It’s not just that the bank takes back this house,” said Kelly Creedon, a Boston-based documentary photographer and multimedia producer. “It creates vacant properties, vandalism goes up, crime goes up.”

To explore the human side of fallout from the sub-prime mortgage crisis, including Marshall Cooper’s story, Creedon created the ongoing multimedia documentary project “We Shall Not Be Moved: Stories from the grassroots struggle against foreclosure and eviction,” which will be screened Saturday, Feb. 19, from 4 to 7 p.m. at The Great Hall in Codman Square, 6 Norfolk Ave.

Creedon said she wanted to tell the story of people who were caught up in the sub-prime mortgage crisis, decided to fight the banks, and found themselves empowered.

“What I try to focus on, what I find compelling, is the personal transformation,” she said. “That has, for a lot of people who are part of this movement, become this window for them to become empowered, to find their voice.”

Creedon started the ongoing project in 2009, and said she immersed herself in it after winning a $10,000 grant from Mass Humanities and the Puffin Foundation. She partnered with City Life/Vida Urbana and the Bank Tenant Association, and found interview subjects in City Life/Vida Urbana meetings for people going through the foreclosure process.

The screening is free and open to the public. For more information, go to weshallnotbemoved.net.
“There is not a lot of awareness about how the sub-prime crisis has impacted communities of color and working-class communities,” Creedon said. “I think it’s really important for people to see the human side of foreclosures.”