This article by Sharon Delgado was published in Response Magazine, February, 2013.
In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus tells of a woman seeking justice from an unjust judge. She persistently demanded, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For awhile the judge refused, but finally he relented and granted her request, “so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” Jesus then said, “And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”
Billi Vogan, a member of Nevada City United Methodist Church in Northern California, is living out a modern example of that story. For almost three years, she has been seeking justice from U.S. banks and courts in an ongoing effort to save her home.
Ms. Vogan and her husband, Lee Traupel, have filed a precedent-setting case in federal court for wrongful foreclosure. They hope ultimately to regain the title to their home. Without Ms. Vogan’s willingness to work tirelessly, the couple might have walked away long ago, as many families do. But in her case, as the foreclosure process unfolded, she became a “foreclosure fighter,” supported by her church and community. Here is her story.
Applying for a Loan Modification
In 2004, Ms. Vogan and Mr. Traupel put $100,000 down on a modest home in Penn Valley, California. They took out a conventional mortgage with affordable payments. During the economic crisis, their business suffered and their income declined. In 2010, they approached their bank for a loan modification. Wells Fargo representatives advised them to stop paying their mortgage in order to qualify. Ms. Vogan said, “I felt like we were jumping off a cliff, but we did what they said.”
She worked hard on the loan modification process. “It was like a full-time job,” she said. She filled out and faxed all the paperwork–again and again. There was no single point of contact, so she talked with a different bank representative and answered the same questions each time she called. Six months later, they still encouraged her to wait.
Finally, Ms. Vogan was able to talk in person with a loan modification officer. He told her that they didn’t qualify for a loan modification because their mortgage had been turned into a Mortgage-Backed Security (MBS).
The light went on! Because she had been doing her homework, Ms. Vogan knew what an MBS was. The mortgage itself had been sold and pooled with thousands of other mortgages. This pool was then sliced into sections and sold to investors, who traded them in a manner similar to stocks. MBSs and their derivatives brought down the financial system in 2008, and families are still feeling the results today in the foreclosure crisis.
Dual Tracking: Bait and Take
Ms. Vogan and Mr. Traupel soon faced foreclosure. They had been dual tracked. Here is how it happens: The bank advises you to stop paying your mortgage in order to qualify for a loan modification. You don’t know it, but as soon as start on that track, the clock starts ticking, because you’ve also started down the foreclosure track. The end of the foreclosure track often comes first.
CJ Holmes, the Housing Policy Director of Home Owners for Justice, calls this “bait and take.” Sometimes it results in a loan modification. More often, not. The “bait” is the offer of a loan mod. The “take” is foreclosure.
In 2011, Wells Fargo foreclosed. At this point, many people walk away. Instead, the couple filed an “unlawful foreclosure” case in Federal Court against Wells Fargo and U.S. Bank (which claimed to have an interest). Bank lawyers attempted to have the case dismissed, but the federal judge declined to dismiss and found ten of their causes against the banks to be valid. The case will be decided in Spring, 2013.
Although this case is ongoing, Wells Fargo tried to evict the family. Ms. Vogan reached out for support to her church and community. She joined the Foreclosure Support and Empowerment Group that met in the church, and joined with others who were struggling to save their homes. Her story was published on FaceBook and YubaNet, an online news source. Her interview on Community Television was posted on YouTube. A Change.org petition of support was circulated. The local Occupy Foreclosure Defense group demonstrated their support outside the local Wells Fargo Bank.
On April 13, 2012, Ms. Vogan and Mr. Traupel faced an Unlawful Detainer hearing before a Nevada County judge. Bank lawyers were pushing for eviction. Before the hearing, supporters held a prayer service in the church, then a vigil outside the courthouse as the case was heard. Supporters celebrated with the family after the judge ruled in their favor. They can stay in their home, paying fair market rent, until the federal case is decided
In concluding the story of the persistent woman and the unjust judge, Jesus asked, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Billi Vogan is an example of faith.
She is tired. While working full time, she is trying to keep this case alive. She needs a lawyer, so that the banks’ lawyers do not crush her in federal court. But she is persistent. She continues to seek justice. Her faith keeps her going and she is grateful for each day. She said, “It’s only with the support of my church and community that I have come this far.”