Activists Protest Wachovia Bank over Foreclosures

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(APN) ATLANTA — A coalition of labor and progressive activists protested at the Wachovia bank in Midtown Atlanta, at the corner of 10th and Peachtree, from 10am to 1130am, on Tuesday, April 21, 2009.

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Photographs by CK Coney

The protest was a follow-up to a recent forum on foreclosures held at the First Iconium Baptist Church a couple weeks ago, which was previously covered by Atlanta Progressive News.

“No more foreclosures! No more evictions!” about 150 protesters shouted. “Bail out people, not banks! Shame on Wachovia!”

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Photographs by CK Coney

“It’s time to do the right thing. That means stopping foreclosures, modifying those bad loans, and stopping predatory lending,” Milton Tambor, President of the Democratic Socialists of America, Atlanta chapter, said.

“Now we started with Wachovia, not because they’re the worst; they’re as bad a lot of the others. But we do know of particular cases where they targeted elderly, they targeted disabled, and they made loans they could not afford to pay,” Tambor said.

“There’s a crisis in the country, and one of the reasons is the establishment behind us, that gouge the customer, that take advantage of the customer, that have excessive fees, and why? Because they can. There’s no regulation, there’s no standards, and there’s no conscience,” Larry Pellegrini, Executive Director of the Georgia Rural Urban Summit said.

“They’re not after your business, they’re after your house,” Pellegrini said.

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Photographs by CK Coney

“We’re here for a lot of reasons. We’re here because Wachovia , Wells Fargo got $25 billion bailouts. We’re here because we’ve talked to Wachovia about the people they ripped off and they’re playing hardball. They told me just about to get out of their face talking about modifying loans,” State Sen. Vincent Fort said.

“What we’re telling them is to work with us, sit down with us, modify these bad loans. Real modifications, not these phantom modifications that get people foreclosed on in a few months. What we’re telling Wachovia is, we’re coming after you today and we’re going to stay on you,” Fort said.

In related news, a source tells APN that Fort has decided for sure not to run for Atlanta City Council President.

“When banks prey on the elderly and folks that have been living in their homes, some… for 20 years. All they wanted was a new roof or a new bathroom or something to be upgraded in their homes and their home has been hijacked,” Charlie Flemming, President of the American Federation of Labor-Council of Industrial Organizations, North Georgia Labor Council, said.

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Photographs by CK Coney

“Wachovia did this to ’em, they can’t say it’s because they merged with somebody… these loans were made here in our community to our people,” Flemming said.

WACHOVIA BRANCH REFUSES TO ACCEPT LETTER, CALLS SECURITY

A contingent of protest leaders, with journalists observing, entered the Wachovia branch to deliver a letter intended for Wachovia’s CEO, John Stumpf.

“Is there a manager available?” Fort asked.

“The manager’s not in,” a blonde White, female employee replied.

“What about an assistant manager?” Fort asked.

“There’s no one here,” the employee replied. “Security’s coming. We’re going to ask you to leave. You’re going to have to contact Corporate Communications.”

The Wachovia employee also refused to accept the letter from Sen. Fort.

It is unclear why the Wachovia employee referred the protesters to Corporate Communications, when the phone number they gave was for members of the media, not members of the community.

It also was unclear why the employee stated there was no manager or assistant manager on premises, when most businesses, particularly banks, usually have someone in their branches who is either a manager or has been delegated some accountability.

Consumers, particularly Wachovia customers, should therefore be aware that Wachovia branches may or may not have anyone with managerial authority on premises at any time.

Wachovia spokesperson, Jamie Grady, refused to comment to Atlanta Progressive News when asked if it was their normal practice to not have a manager present.

“We will not be commenting on the protest,” Grady told Atlanta Progressive News.

APN noted that the question posed to Wachovia was simply whether it was normal practice not to have a manager present.

“I understand the question. I’m not commenting on that,” Grady said.

When asked why Wachovia would not accept the letter and whether that was their normal practice, Grady also refused to comment.

APN faxed a copy of the letter to Grady, who promised that she would forward the letter to Stumpf’s office, however.

AVONIA CARSON’S STORY

Also present at the rally was Avonia Carson, 68, a short and soft-spoken, Black woman, who briefly told those gathered that she had fallen behind in her payments and received foreclosure notices.

Carson, who would only speak with her attorney, William Brennan, of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, present, spoke at length about her situation with Atlanta Progressive News.

Carson seemed quite confused about what had happened to her and how she got into this situation.

However, Atlanta Legal Aid, who has reviewed her loan documents, told APN that Carson received a third mortgage for $135,293, at a 6.87% fixed rate for a 30 year term. The monthly payment is $892.69; however, her monthly income, from Social Security, was about $1,135 at the time.

This was approximately 80% of her income, whereas the US Department of Housing and Urban Development typically recommends 30% of one’s income as an affordability threshold.

Carson told APN she used the money to pay credit cards; however, Brennan said in a follow-up interview, that she had paid down the balance on two previous mortgages on the house and one credit card. Also, Carson received about $1,500 cash out of the deal.

Carson had also told APN that she had paid off her house note after 30 years in 2001; however, Brennan noted she still had balances on two prior mortgages when she took out the loan with Wachovia.

Carson has lived in her home, in Southeast Atlanta, for 37 years. Atlanta Legal Aid says they were able to stop the eviction and that they are currently in settlement negotiations.

Wachovia said they could not comment on Carson’s situation due to privacy reasons. However, APN provided spokeswoman, Ms. Grady, with contact information for Mr. Brennan, as she expressed interest in looking into whether Wachovia could provide Ms. Carson with any additional assistance.

However, how does someone with $1100/month income get approved for a loan with a $900/month payment?

“Typically, they wouldn’t give somebody a loan whose monthly payment would be 75% of their monthly income,” Don Vecchiarello, Communication Manager for Wachovia Mortgages, told APN.

“[There are] a variety of underwriting processes we go through to make sure they can afford to pay. There’s a debt to income ratio we require. We would look at credit reports, credit ratings. We look at the value of the home,” Vechiarello said, adding he could not explain how Carson’s loan was approved without knowing the specifics.

Atlanta Legal Aid said they requested Carson’s loan documents from Wachovia, and that remarkably, Wachovia was unable to locate Carson’s original loan application.

WACHOVIA DISCUSSES FORECLOSURES

According to the protesters, 22 Wachovia foreclosures are scheduled in Fulton County for April 2009.

If President Obama and US Congress have enacted programs to keep people in their homes, why are foreclosures still occurring in Atlanta?

“There’s a variety of reasons,” Vechiarello said. “Number one, Wachovia has the largest market share in Georgia, if not, we’re second to Suntrust. We have more customers than the vast majority of banks within Georgia and Atlanta specifically.”

“Although the Obama Administration has developed several programs to help people, as has Wachovia and Wells Fargo and numerous other banks… it takes time. That’s the biggest reason,” Vechiarello said.

“The government is still developing their programs. They’ve announced they’ve created those programs. The specifics still have to come out, and the banks have to create process around those programs,” including documents and underwriting standards, Vechiarello said.

“The government program helps to mitigate the situation, but it takes time to institute, and the economy is a big driver of why people go into foreclosures. The main reasons [are] major health issues, divorce, and loss of a job,” Vechiarello said.

“Unemployment is up to 8.5 percent right now, and most economists expect that to increase. That’s a huge factor in people going into default in those loans.”

“Even in great economic times, you’re still going to have [a low] foreclosure rate,” he said.

“We’re asking customers to be patient,” he said.

When asked what Wachovia would tell a mortgage customer who called today asking for assistance, “We would probably find out if we have a program internally to assist… if there’s loss of income or depreciation on their home… depending on each individual situation,” he said.

These internal programs could include forbearance, refinance opportunities, a payment plan, or loan modification, he said. “Or maybe if you’ve lost your job, maybe there’s an option with a short sale opportunity.”

“Or if you’re gonna fit into a government plan, we’ll take your information, and then as soon as we get the details, we’ll give you a call back.”

Vecchairello recommends that Wachovia mortgage customers experiencing trouble should call loss mitigation or customer service as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, activists insist they are not done targeting Wachovia or other banks in Atlanta.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor for The Atlanta Progressive News and is reachable at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com.

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