Written by Steven Rosenfeld for AlterNet
The eviction might have been another anonymous descent into poverty were it not for Occupy Atlanta activists who tried to help the family stay.
our generations of a Georgia family were evicted at gunpoint by dozens of sheriffs and deputies at 3am last week in an Atlanta suburb. The eyebrow-raising eviction, a foreclosure action, might have been another anonymous descent into poverty were it not for Occupy Atlanta activists who tried to help the family stay in Christine Frazer’s home of 18 years.
The eviction came as Frazer, 63, who lost her husband and then job in 2009, had been challenging the foreclosure in county and federal courts by seeking to restructure the terms of a delinquent mortgage. However, the latest holder of her loan, Investors One Corporation – the fourth company that bought her mortgage in an eight-month period – allowed the eviction to proceed even thought it was “negotiating” new loan terms with her attorney one day before the police raid.
DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown told an Atlanta talk radio show a day after the raid that a dozen squad cars and dozens of deputies were needed for the dead-of-night raid because Occupy Atlanta had set up tents on Frazer’s property, and his perception of the Occupy activists in other cities led him to believe they could be armed. He also said he timed the eviction to avoid media coverage.
“I made the decision that we were going to do this at 3am for a couple of reasons,” he told WAOK’s Derrick Boazman. “Number one, I have seen the various Occupy groups in various cities operate before. It was an ugly scene in Oakland. I have seen them firsthand in Washington. I’ve seen them on Wall Street. I’ve seen them in Atlanta.”
“I will not participate in a mass demonstration arrest with television cameras when I am not sure I can trust the people who say they will offer passive resistance,” Brown said. “Our intelligence told us that there were at least 10 Occupy Atlanta folks there on the property; that turned out not to be the case. Our intelligence told us that the family had vacated the house; that turned out not to be the case… We made the decision to have enough resources there to make sure it would not get out of hand.”
But out-of-hand does not even approach how Christine Frazer described the raid, saying in the days since the eviction she and her family, including her 85-year-old mother, daughter and 3-year-old grandson, have been split up and forced to rely on charity. Frazer also described how she had been exploring every legal avenue to refinance her debt, but the lenders had no intention of doing anything but evict her, presumably to sell the home.
“It has been really unsettling,” Frazer said. “When something like this happens, it breaks up the family. Me and my mom are staying one place. My grandson is someplace. My daughter is staying someplace else. It just feels really strange. I have lived in that home for 18 years. That is where I am used to waking up every morning. It’s just… I am grateful that I am not under a bridge, but I miss home.”
Frazer said that she did not expect the sudden eviction, because she had been challenging the foreclosure in federal court and her attorney had been negotiating with the lenders.
“No, I didn’t, because I currently have a case in federal court for a wrongful foreclosure,” she said. “And also the opposing or foreclosing attorney was in a negotiation process with my attorney. As a matter of fact, that Monday, I talked with them and they had talked about possibly reinstating the loan. But, of course, I was concerned about the principle [amount]. And they previously said they were looking for the eviction. It happened the next morning at 3am.”
Frazer’s descent in home loan hell had been going on for months, she said, but nothing in that arduous effort prepared her for being awakened and evicted at gunpoint.
“They came to my home like I was a drug dealer,” she said. “At 3am in the morning, they knocked on my door. The Dekalb Sheriff’s Department knocked on my door. They opened my door. I knew my rights that I didn’t have to open the door. They came with a locksmith, drilled off the locks, came into my house, with a flashlight in one hand and pistol in the other, [shouting] ‘Who’s in the house? Who’s in the house?'”
Frazer said the sheriff’s department knew exactly who was there – three generations of women in one family and a toddler grandson.
“Who do you think was in the house?” she asked. “My picture and my story have been in the local DeKalb paper. They knew exactly who. Yes, they knew Occupy was there. But Occupy is a nonviolent movement. Nonviolent. These people came at me like I’m a drug dealer and I am doing something wrong. I am just a homeowner.”
Frazer said she was ordered by sheriffs to dress and then vacate the building.
“They told me to pack up as if I just had a fire at my home and take my immediate possessions. And I had to leave immediately. I said, ‘Can I take a shower?’ ‘No, just throw on some clothes.’ It took them seven hours to get that stuff out of my house. They were going to be there anyway. Why couldn’t I take a shower?”
Frazer said the sheriff brought men to empty the house of its possessions.
“They hired some off-the-wall great big jerks to come into my home,” she said. “My daughter had a little piggy bank. She was saving those gold dollar coins. They broke it on the floor and took that. I have no idea where some of my jewelry is – stuff I bought when I was 30 years old. I am 63. They just threw everything everywhere, helter-skelter on the front lawn in the dark. I have to tell you, I worked hard all my life. At one point, I had a moving company. I know it is against the law in Georgia to move anyone at night.”
The sheriffs closed off the street and had at least a dozen police cars present. There was one Occupy Atlanta member in a tent on the property at the time, said Tim Franzen, an Occupy member active in housing issues.
“Chris does have a place to stay,” Franzen said, when asked where she and her family are now. “We have moved all of her stuff, 18 years worth of stuff, into storage. And Chris still has plenty of fight in her and we are going to fight alongside of her.”
Invisible, Unaccountable Moneymen
Frazer’s foreclosure woes are hardly unique. It is typical for single women to earn less money than men. It is very difficult for women over age 60 to find gainful employment. Meanwhile, her mortgage has been sold and resold in a financial industry game of pass the hot potato, where buyers and sellers pay a fraction of its face value but either cash out by finding a new buyer or evicting the borrower and selling the house.
“My loans were securitized, there is no doubt in my mind about that,” Frazer said, explaining that every time she sought to identify who was the actual holder of her mortgage she ran into brick walls and opaque companies where it was all but impossible to even speak to someone with authority to negotiate on the phone.
Frazer said one firm she contacted, claiming to be in the business of helping distressed borrowers, came back with an offer – pay $20,000 in cash and then the loan would be reinstated. That option, of course, was impossible, because if she had that kind of cash, she said she would have been making her mortgage payments. Frazer also had hopes that President Obama’s program to help distressed borrowers would offer a way to keep the home. But that also fell through because only borrowers who are caught up with all their payments are eligible for restructuring their loans.
“You are not a distressed homeowner if you are current on your mortgage,” she said.
Frazer said she has tried to negotiate a new loan – starting with her balance, not including nearly $30,000 in penalty and legal fees tacked onto the principle.
“I sat down one day as I was going through this, and looked at what we have paid,” she said. “I have already have paid over $240,000 for the house… The banks have gotten the money. The banks got a [government] bailout. That document that the bank sent me that said my house is now worth $40,000. That is called depreciation. That is a tax write-off for them. Their bread got buttered on both sides. But me and my family; what kind of justice is that?”
Dekalb Sheriff Brown told the talk radio listeners there was nothing unusual about Frazer’s foreclosure and eviction – apart from bringing in 10 times the number of law enforcement officers typically involved because of the presence of Occupy Atlanta.
“Mrs. Frazer lost her home evidently because she could not make payments,” he said. “As I understand it, she tried to get a loan modification, but she did not qualify for a loan modification because she did not have a source of income.”
“Mrs. Frazier and her attorneys exhausted every legal means to save her home,” Brown said. “They took it all the way to the DeKalb Superior Court… The judge sitting on the bench ruled that she could still not keep her home and issued an order to the sheriff to execute the warrant….”
Frazer’s attorney, Joshua Davis, said the sheriff’s descriptions and knowledge of the case was not accurate. Davis said Frazer was scheduled to go before a county court to seek a temporary restraining order preventing the foreclosure while the case was in litigation. However, lawyers for the lender took the case to federal court, because of the loan amounts involved, where the TRO proceeding became voided and the case had to commence again. That was a tactic, Davis said to strip away the legal obstacles and proceed with a foreclosure eviction, which under Georgia law is a 30-day process.
“We were about to have a hearing on the temporary restraining order,” Davis said. “Right before we were about to have a hearing but the opposing counsel moved it to federal court. What that does is it basically nullifies the hearing that we hope to take place in [county] Superior Court. And then everything is supposed to be sent to federal court and then the judges from there will move on it. But everything in federal court moves a lot slower.”
There is one legal scenario under which Frazer might regain her home and get a modified mortgage she could afford.
Davis said the lender that pursued the eviction, Investors One Corp., was not the holder of her latest mortgage in the DeKalb County assessor’s office. Apparently, an Indiana bank that sold the loan to Investors One is still listed as the last lender of record on the property. That discrepancy in property records might prove to be enough legal grounds to reverse the foreclosure and entitle Frazer to punitive damages – because Investors One executed the eviction without legal standing as the recorded loan holder. If a federal judge accepts that argument or allows a trial to proceed based on it, then a settlement might be possible in which Frazer could obtain a new affordable 30-year mortgage.
When asked if that was what she was seeking, she replied, “Exactly. Work with me.”
In the meantime, DeKalb Sheriff Brown is unrepentant about Occupy Atlanta, saying he does not trust their claims of being nonviolent.
“What I didn’t want to do was to put a whole lot of people in my jail who wanted to be in my jail, at $53.50 a day, which is a burden to the taxpayers,” he said, “because somebody wants to make a statement that in their minds that corporate America controls 90 percent of the wealth in these United States of America. Whether that is true or not, I don’t know and I don’t care. I have a constitutional responsibility to uphold the peace.”