Facing eviction from her home on Detroit's west side, Jennifer Britt is taking a stand.
But she's not standing alone.
A judge has ordered Britt's eviction, which means a Dumpster could be dropped off outside the 49-year-old widow's home on Warwick near Grand River at any time. Supporters of Britt began arriving at her brick house in the Rosedale Park neighborhood at 6 a.m. last Thursday to participate in a vigil, standing guard with the intent of keeping anyone from going in and removing the Britt family's possessions.
Spirits were high when News Hits dropped by to check out the situation. A local TV news crew was on scene, camera rolling as about 40 of Britt's supporters held signs and chanted, "Hey, hey, Fannie Mae — how many families did you evict today?"
Fannie Mae, according to information posted on its website, "is a government-sponsored enterprise chartered by Congress to keep money flowing to mortgage lenders, to help strengthen the U.S. housing and mortgage markets, and to support affordable homeownership."
But for people like Britt, it's the enemy, using taxpayer money to bail out banks while forcing families into the streets.
Here's the backstory:
Britt and her husband Leon purchased the home in 1999, using a government-backed loan from Flagstar. After Leon died in 2006, Jennifer found out that the mortgage was in default when a notice was placed on the door informing her that the place was about to be sold at a sheriff's auction. At that point, according to attorney Joe McGuire, who is now representing Britt, the bank agreed to call off the foreclosure if Britt turned over $26,000 in late payments and fees. She came up with the cash, using money received from Leon's life insurance.
But the bank also raised her monthly mortgage payments, from $1,050 a month to $1,550. Britt tried to renegotiate the loan, but the bank reportedly wouldn't work with her because the loan was in Leon's name alone.
In 2008, Jennifer lost her job. Meanwhile, her mortgage payments continued to rise, eventually hitting $1,950 a month. She kept making payments until her savings ran dry. The bank foreclosed again in 2010. She attempted to fight for her house in court but, with no money to pay for an attorney, she represented herself.
Outmaneuvered in court, she lost. But it isn't Flagstar that's now attempting to put her and her family out on the street. Instead it's Fannie Mae, which purchased the home at a sheriff's auction in 2010 for $121,000 — the full amount remaining on the mortgage with Flagstar.
So taxpayer money was used to make sure the bank didn't take a loss. At the same time, according to McGuire, Fannie Mae is refusing to take anything less than the full $121,000 to let Britt remain in a home that's currently worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000.
Britt has found a new job, cleaning houses. And Southwest Solutions, a Detroit-based nonprofit, has offered to buy the home and let Britt make payments to it. They've made an initial lowball offer of $11,000, but are willing to negotiate, says Britt. So far though, Fannie Mae is holding firm on its demand that it recoup the entire $121,000 it forked over to Flagstar.
In many ways, this is a story that has become painfully familiar. If Fannie Mae is successful in evicting Britt and her family — which includes her 74-year-old mother, 77-year-old uncle, 19-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son — it is never going to find someone else willing to cough up $121,000 for a place that's only worth $30,000 — so taxpayers are gong to be stuck with a big loss no matter what.
And, as we've seen all too often, what's likely to happen if the house is left vacant is that it will fall victim to scrappers who will strip it of everything of value, adding even more blight to a city already teeming with empty, worthless wrecks.
If anything, the feds, in the form of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, are becoming even less willing to help keep struggling homeowners from being kicked to the curb, said Jerome Goldberg, one of the leaders of the Moratorium Now! movement and an attorney who specializes in eviction cases.
So Jeniffer Britt is taking a stand, with a diverse group of supporters joining her. Folks from Occupy Detroit are participating in the vigil, as are neighbors, members of the anti-foreclosure group Moratorium Now! and activists from the group By Any Means Necessary (BAMN).
Their intent is to block the street when the Dumpster arrives, in an attempt to keep it from being dropped off.
Among those who showed up to support Britt were some of the folks featured in our recent story about attempts to evict people caught up in an alleged scam involving Paramount Land Holdings and the Detroit Police & Fire Pension system ("Skuzzy stuff," July 18).
"People are starting to stick together, and this is starting to feel like a movement," observed Robert Day, an attorney at the nonprofit Legal Aid and Defenders Association.
Britt, too, sees this as a fight that's about more than her and her family.
"Of course, I want to save my home," she told News Hits. "But I also want to let others know that there is hope for them too. I'm fighting for my house, but as far as I'm concerned, this is about all our houses. Other people who are going through what we're going through need to see that there is hope. But they can't be quiet about what's happening to them. They need to join with these groups that are fighting back. That's how we are going to make change."
Which is why Tristan Taylor, a 29-year-old hospital worker and an activist with BAMN, is participating in the vigil to help prevent Britt and her family from being evicted.
"This case of Jennifer Britt expresses what I see as a consistent attack on people of this city," he told us. "They take houses that are filled with life and love and turn them into potential crack houses."
Those interested in the effort to keep that from happening can e-mail [email protected] or see peoplebeforebanks.org.
News Hits is written by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]