On a cool evening in early spring 2014, a group of 50 people donned blue t-shirts and assembled on the sidewalk outside the main entrance to the headquarters of a well-known U.S. bank. The group held candles, and several customers told stories of predatory lending, disorganization and negligence that resulted in increasing debt and unjust foreclosures, especially in communities of color.
Verjie, a nurse’s assistant, spoke through a megaphone. He has lived in the Cambria Heights neighborhood of Queens, New York, for nearly 20 years. An immigrant from the Caribbean, he speaks English as a second language. When he and his wife bought a home in 1997, they obtained a mortgage at a predatory 11 percent interest rate, the normal rates were around 6 to 8 percent. In 2000, his wife died. Verjie submitted paperwork to have the mortgage transferred to his name, but it never happened. Nevertheless, Verjie kept up with payments for the next 12 years, until he was injured and had to stop working. No longer able to make full payments on the remaining balance of $90,000, he requested loan modification. The bank, however, said they could not work with him because his name was not on the loan documents. As he sought to resolve the situation over the next two years, fees and interest accrued, the balance on the loan grew to $120,000, and the bank started foreclosure proceedings. The creditor came and threatened to take away his home.
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