Written by: Arthia Nixon
Photo by: Angela Favors-Morrell
Raymond and Mary Harris in front of their dream home prior to it being foreclosed.
(BRUNSWICK, GEORGIA) Gardening, beach walks, dinner plans, health checks and looking forward to spending holidays with the grandkids – these are the things senior years are made of. However, for many area seniors, the security of living out their years surrounded by the things they worked their youth to achieve is becoming more and more farfetched as many are finding themselves using their retirement funds to restart life as their homes are being foreclosed on. Some call it circumstance but others are calling it an ugly scheme to remove black seniors from property rightfully owed to them since post-emancipation days. And still there are others who feel that it is a part of SunTrust Bank’s discrimination case that was exposed earlier this year in which 20,000 African-American and Latinos were allegedly charged more on loans based on their race.
One couple caught in the crossfire is Mary and Raymond Harris. Pictured standing in front of what was their dream home on Oak Grove Island, the 70-something year-old heart patients are reduced to living in an apartment. They’ve sought emotional refuge in the Neighbor to Neighbor outreach group which has become an advocate to prevent foreclosures and evictions of people in similar situations.
“It’s was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life!” Mrs. Harris says of the day she and her husband were told they had to leave their home. “Imagine what it is like to accumulate a lifetime of memories only to come home and find them sitting in the street in the rain. Yes, I lost furniture and other big items but I also lost irreplaceable items which have a personal meaning, papers and letters and photographs… you can’t just throw away someone’s life and put it on the street. Thankfully my husband has a business and we were able to try to get back up.”
With their grown children living elsewhere, and most of their friends seniors as well, the Harris struggled to salvage their belongs under what they considered to be “unreasonable” terms.
“There were security guards hired to stand watch to ensure that we only came to collect our belongings between 9am and 5pm each day,” Mrs. Harris stated. “We were not allowed to work into the night, the locks were changed and we had less than a week to move everything. Needless to say, it was impossible. When we went back the last time, whatever we had left just seemed to vanish. It’s just horrible that this happened and it is a lot on someone our age.”
While Mr. and Mrs. Harris had a business to help them move into an apartment, Irene Shuman, also in her mid-70’s has also been foreclosed on and ordered to leave her home. Yet she has been described as holding on by a thread to keep her home. According to Rev. Zach Lyde, these are just two of many affected in what he feels is a conspiracy to get people off of land bequeathed to free African-Americans following the end of slavery (see next week’s issue).
And the discrimination theory is not farfetched. After all, it was just in May 2012 when SunTrust Bank, the same company which foreclosed on the Harris home, reached a settlement in a discrimination case. It was determined that the company’s mortgage lending unit had to pay $21 million to compensate African-American and Hispanic borrowers because they were given higher loans based on race. The United States Justice Department alleged that between 2005 and 2009, some 20,000 minority borrowers were charged higher fees, which made SunTrust guilty of breaching anti-discrimination laws.
Also in May, Mrs. Harris received a letter from HSBC in response to her query as to why SunTrust was able to foreclose on her home when HSBC Mortgage Services, Inc was the first lien holder (see photo).
“They explained that SunTrust was able to prove that they were able to foreclose on our house because they served HSBC with foreclosure paperwork,” she said. “A whole lot was just not adding up. Also we had recently received a cancellation of deed to secure debt where the $341,000 was no longer required.”
The letter from HSBC stated that they charged off the balance on the account on August 6, 2011 and released the lien on the property in January 2012. In the conclusion to this story next week, The Star brings together other persons in the area facing the same issues and the role of Neighbor to Neighbor in helping them recuperate.