Foreclosure? This Calls for a Campout

The housing bust may be yesterday’s news, but that doesn’t mean foreclosures have stopped. If you have any doubt, head over to South Park today, where a group of housing activists are trying to physically block a longtime homeowner from being evicted.

Upon order of the King County Sheriff, Jeremy Griffin was supposed to be out of his home by Tuesday at midnight. Instead, starting late last night, he has played host to members of Standing Against Foreclosure & Eviction, a group that grew out of the Occupy movement. They set up a large tent in his carefully tended garden, where a few people spent the night. By morning, several dozen people had gathered in front of his three-bedroom, which had been draped with protest banners, including a huge one reading “Foreclosure Free Zone.”

“Our real bottom line,” says the 37-year-old Griffin, emerging from his house after what he says was a sleepless night, “is that banks shouldn’t evict people who want to stay in their homes.”

Perhaps, though, what he should say is that banks shouldn’t kick people out who are actually trying to give them money. Such is the strange tale of Griffin.

The pony-tailed steelworker is not one of those housing bubble airheads who bought a much more expensive house than they could afford.

When he and his then girlfriend bought the place in 2005, the price was a reasonable $225,000 and both had jobs. Griffin says he was employed by a small steel company that worked on commercial construction projects, including the downtown Uwajimaya renovation. He says his girlfriend worked in insurance.

In 2008, Griffin says, he took over the company he had long been managing—just in time for the economic meltdown that he says ground his business to a complete halt. His girlfriend couldn’t carry the mortgage on her own, and they fell behind. He says she left because of the stress after a couple of years, leaving him to face the foreclosures notices that first came in 2011.

He says he bailed himself out of that situation by borrowing money from his family. He had gotten a new job, and thought he could keep up after that. But in short order, he was laid off, driving him to fall behind yet again Last November, the house was sold at a foreclosure auction for $144,000. The buyer listed on King County property records is Deutsche Bank National Trust Co., one of the financial entities involved in the loan.

It was a company owned by Wells Fargo, however, who had serviced the loan. And so, after Griffin found work again, he tried to work something out with the bank. In December, accompanied by SAFE supporters, he showed up at the bank’s downtown corporate offices with a $1,200 check in hand. He says he intended the money as rent while he and the bank could negotiate.

According to Griffin, Wells Fargo locked its offices so he couldn’t get in and a manager at the retail branch downstairs refused to take the check. Griffin says he left it on the manger’s desk. He says he tried several more times to pay the bank money and offered to buy the house back within a couple of years. Wells Fargo declined to negotiate even though there is a state law that requires lenders to enter into mediation with homeowners facing foreclosure.

To be fair, the bank had a reason. As Wells Fargo spokesperson Lara Underhill emphasizes in a conversation with SW today, Griffin is not listed on the loan document. Instead, only his former girlfriend is; Griffin says that a mortgage broker told the couple they could get a better rate that way, although he says he never understood why.

In any case, Griffin says he is on the deed, and his name as listed as an owner in King County property records. Given that, couldn’t Wells Fargo—one of five major lenders that last year entered into a settlement with attorneys general across the county to provide a collective $25 billion in relief to distressed homeowners—help Griffin out?

Underhill says she can’t comment on that. She says instead that Wells Fargo did offer Griffin “options.” Those options, however, consisted of either paying the full amount upfront for the house, something Griffin says he couldn’t afford, or taking relocation assistance, which would mean him moving.

As of this posting, there was no news of a standoff with sheriff’s deputies. Cindi West, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office, says she does not know when officers are scheduled to come, but that arrests are possible if they face resistance.

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