With the help from organizers of the local Occupy movement, a Signal Hill homeowner is still allegedly struggling to keep her home. The Occupy Long Beach movement organized a few demonstrations over the last week in an effort to call attention to Rachel New, a local resident who is fighting foreclosure after a request to modify her existing loan was reportedly not approved. New confirmed this week that she received a notice posted on her door that required her and her family to vacate the premises by Wednesday, March 21.
Occupy volunteers have rallied behind New’s efforts to keep her home located at 2083 Freeman Ave. It’s the first time the city of Signal Hill has seen a significant demonstration from the Occupy movement. According to an organizer estimate, about 40 supporters from Occupy Long Beach and other organizations took part in demonstrations at the city’s Wells Fargo Bank on Cherry Avenue and Willow Street on Friday, March 16. The following Monday, an organizer estimated about 20 to 25 protestors returned to the bank to continue their show of support for New and her family. On Tuesday night, supporters erected tents on the front lawn of New’s two-story home located in one of Signal Hill’s hilltop neighborhoods. Protestors have remained at New’s home since that time, anticipating that the county sheriff may arrive at any moment to eject them from the property.
At press time on Thursday morning, the Los Angeles County Sheriff had not ejected New or the protesters from her home. According to a press release from the Occupy Long Beach movement, a court hearing is scheduled on Friday to consider a request to withdraw the order for a lockout.
“I saved up all my life savings without any vacation just to fulfill my dream to build a home, a nice home for my family,” New said in an interview Wednesday night.
Her house is located in an affluent neighborhood in the city, and the two-story home is comparable in size to the largest of homes in that neighborhood. According to the City’s Community Development Department, the house’s building permit included 4.5 bedrooms with a significant amount of space. The building has 3,750 square feet of living area. There is also 1,114 squre feet of garage space and a 1,040 square-foot deck. New said that she also owns one other home in Signal Hill, but that home is currently being leased. The mortgage for that house is being paid by renter income, according to New.
Her story of her home’s foreclosure is at least partially disputed by spokespeople from Wells Fargo and the company responsible for servicing the loan. New said Wednesday that she wasdenied a home-loan modification, and a day later, during an auction, Wells Fargo sold the home back to itself for $585,000. She is asking Wells Fargo to sell the house back to her for the $585,000 and to modify her loan to a two-percent rate, a rate she says is affordable.
When she first started building her home, New’s husband also had a business, and the couple had two incomes. New said she had initially put down $450,000 to buy the land and design the building. She then took out a loan of $1 million for the construction. But by 2009, New said her home was underwater– the house was worth less than half of what she had put into it. She added that her husband’s business went downhill and then he didn’t have a job. She is now separated from her husband.
Occupy organizer Sharon Cotrell defended the Occupy movement’s decision to help a resident keep an expensive home.
“I thought a lot about that, you know, because it is a wealthy home. But it’s her home,” Cotrell said. “She came from these incredible circumstances…She worked hard. She put herself through school. She’s had a job. She’s saved… She had a dream, and she earned it. She did it, and why should she be victimized any more than a person of more modest means?” she added. Cotrell said that no one else is asking the organization to help save their homes from foreclosure.
New, 44, said she immigrated from Cambodia, where she said she left behind a tragic past. She told Occupy Long Beach organizers that she personally suffered violent beatings and starvation and witnessed the gruesome deaths of her family members at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.
It was also confusing at first for New to determine who was responsible for her loan. During an interview Wednesday, New said she had understood at the time of the demonstrations that Wells Fargo held her loan, but she says Occupy volunteers who were investigating the circumstances behind her foreclusure indicated that the bank serves only as a “trustee” for the loan.
Representatives from both Wells Fargo and Rushmore Loan Management Services, a company that services the loan for the property, dispute New’s account of the foreclosure, specifically refuting New’s claims that Wells Fargo had repurchased the property at an auction.
A spokesman for the loan-servicing company said that Rushmore, not Wells Fargo, had been servicing the loan account. Wells Fargo was acting as a “trustee” only. Rushmore would not offer specific details surrounding New’s case, but Margaret Blankers, a spokesman for Rushmore, did release a statement through email Wednesday night.
“Unfortunately, in many cases, a borrower cannot afford to remain in his/her house even if the payments are significantly reduced,” said Blankers. “We cannot discuss the specifics of any borrower’s situation; however, we can say that the company has been attempting to work with this borrower and the borrower’s representatives for nearly two years. We have considered all available options based on the information provided by this borrower and had proposed a number of options.
“Wells Fargo Bank does not own the property, nor has it ever had any financial interest in the loan or the property,” Blankers continued. “It has never at any time had any authority to approve any modification of the loan, nor does it have authority to take any action.”
A spokesman for Wells Fargo also issued a brief statement that confirmed the bank’s trustee role. “Wells Fargo has never owned this home, nor are we involved in the foreclosure proceedings,” said Elise Wilkinson in an emailed statement. Wilkinson serves as the vice president and communications manager for Wells Fargo Securities and Wells Fargo & Co. Wilkinson also addressed the question of whether New’s home was repurchased by the bank at an auction. “The Occupy statement is incorrect,” Wilkinson said. “We are the trustee handling administrative matters for the trust.”
New, a mother of two daughters, said she has lived in that home for almost three years and works two jobs. She said she has been sharing her home with her daughters and a large family that also includes two brothers, along with her mother and aunt, who are both disabled.
In a Wednesday afternoon telephone interview, Signal Hill Police Chief Michael Langston described the demonstrations as peaceful. According to Langston, the police department gave instructions to the protestors who rallied at the bank last Friday, and the protestors complied. When the demonstrators returned to the Wells Fargo bank the following Monday, officers were not called to the bank to address the protestors, Langston said.
Langston confirmed that his department is monitoring the demonstration activities, but officers are not maintaining a constant presence at New’s home.