By Heather Martin
“The thought of losing your home is particularly tough. It challenges everything you got, including your manhood. You feel like you’re letting your family down. You’re not doing your job of protecting your family. You’re worthless. How could you do that? Never mind the recession. It’s your fault. Every man that lost his home feels it’s his fault even though the game is tilted the other way. The banks got help from the government very quickly. No stress. No anxiety. No banker lost his home. Yet, they didn’t see to it that the common man could have used some kind of break. They just didn’t need to be so cruel.”
– Ailton Lima, Brazilian Immigrant turned American Citizen & Business Owner
Anyone who has survived the financial crisis of 2008 knows it has been a slow slog. Paltry economic growth affecting the job market combined with the profound hit to home values has left many Americans fraught with financial hardship.
Even with hard work, many homeowners struggle to make their mortgage payments and keep their homes. Many attempt to pursue a loan modification through their bank on their own, often with little success. Threats of foreclosure compound the stressors on families that are trying to rebuild after the financial crisis destroyed decades of hard work.
Despite the challenges, the tenacity of the American spirit has sprouted up through a wave of homeowners fighting to keep their homes, even if they must pursue outside resources to help them with their fight.
One such resource is HSI Trust – HomeSavers (HSI), a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to assist homeowners with financial difficulty to identify the issues they face and then create a realistic plan of action to help them save their home. Oftentimes this includes navigating the loan modification process.
Bruce Boguslav is the Executive Director of HSI. Counter to what is frequently portrayed in the media, homeowners seeking loan modifications are not delinquents who got into the market when loans were practically given away. In actuality, “what we see are the hardworking, honest folks that would literally sell a car, raid their pension, work three jobs, pretty much do anything within reason to make their mortgage payments,” said Boguslav.
Laurie R. (Last name protected to prevent retaliation)
In 2010, Laurie was a stay at home mom in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. With four kids at home, she wanted to be with them to support their development. Circumstances changed for the worse when her husband lost his job.
Laurie took a pro-active approach by reaching out to Bank of America (B of A) to let them know paying the mortgage might be challenging in the upcoming months, and seeking help. B of A in turn sent her loan modification packets
which she diligently filled out and sent back via FedEx, fax or mail. She estimates that she filled out and submitted between 8 to 12 modification packets which kept getting rejected because they were either “lost” or “incomplete.” Within 6 to 8 months they started receiving foreclosure and other notices that became more and more persistent.
They were 3 weeks away from foreclosure and had begun packing all of their belongings when they found HSI. Laurie happened to be watching Chris Cuomo on ABC. She says, “At this point in our struggle I didn’t want to hear any news or anything else related to foreclosure or loan modifications. But for some reason I listened to this show and Bruce [of HSI] was being interviewed. Something struck a chord and I told myself ‘whatever it’s gonna take, I am going to find this guy’s number!’”
She did her online research, found his phone number and left him a voicemail that she believes must have sounded downright frantic. She received a call back from Bruce who was calm and collected. In his customary fashion, he told her, “Don’t freak out.” Bruce was able to stave off the foreclosure and assist them in getting a permanent load modification.
It’s been almost a year since their home was saved. Laurie says “I felt compelled to share as much of my experience as possible. I hear so many of my friends, professionals that eventually gave up and lost their homes. I want others to know there is hope. Don’t give up.”
Laurie still has 3 boxes in the closet she hasn’t unpacked. “It’s like a memory of being down and thinking it’s never going to get better, but it can.” Her husband now has a full time, permanent position and their lives are back on track.
Ailton moved to the United States in 1974 to escape military dictatorship in Brazil. He says he “couldn’t take the indoctrination.”
“My life here was very typical of an ‘alien.’ I worked in restaurants, diners, hotels, mainly doing things you don’t even need to speak, such as washing pots, pans, dishes, etc. Once I lived in a third floor walkup in north Newark. Eight people were sleeping in one room with only one electric heater and a gas oven to keep us warm. The fridge was a ledge outside the window. Sometimes when I came home, the piece of meat I had left on the ledge had fallen down and there was no dinner. It got very bad in those days. I don’t even understand how I managed to hold on to hope.”
He eventually progressed to working on a factory floor melting bars of zinc at about 900 degrees Fahrenheit, then pouring the solution into a jig to make small pieces that would be polished and plated afterwards. Ailton recalls, “You just stood there with this thing boiling in front of you while the snow fell outside the window. At break time, you had to walk a couple of blocks in the snow to buy lunch, which was not a good idea, having left such a hot environment. The good thing about it was that it put me in contact with the metal finishing part of the industry, which I would later embrace as a profession.”
Years later he was able to open his own metal polishing shop in a garage with his former co-worker.
Eventually, that grew into a full finishing shop with a complete plating room. Whatever money they made, they would invest right back into the business. “I had arrived in 1974 and in 1977 I opened that small shop. Looking back, this kind of happened pretty fast. At the time, it seemed like an eternity.”
That wouldn’t be the last hardship Ailton would endure.
“During the last recession, which to us began in 2007, we were hit hard. We didn’t see it coming at all. Lost everything and got very desperate. The bottom fell from under us. We were trying to survive like a lot of other businesses. The banks were taking people’s homes and it became very stressful. Anxiety, depression, hopelessness set in, it got tough. We had no work coming in and we couldn’t meet our obligations with the banks. They began to foreclose. Bill collectors and lawyers were very cruel.”
“Bad things happen when man dismisses your humanity. You become expendable. I particularly remember a banker telling me at a meeting, ‘you’re living off hope,’ in a very dismissive way. I responded with ‘that’s all I got. Would you rather see me kill myself?’ The banker didn’t respond.”
For the past several decades, he had watched Nightline and 60 minutes religiously and one night while watching Nightline, he saw an interview where Bruce’s name came up in connection with saving a woman’s home after no lawyer had been able to.
When he saw this Ailton recalls, “I was at the end of my rope at that point. I had gone to several attorneys, whom were glad to take my money to the tune of several thousand dollars, but never produced the desired results. When the walking got tough, they bailed out and left me hanging. I was just in such a situation, having been dumped by the latest attorney, after paying her $8,000 to help me save my home, to no avail.”
Ailton decided to reach out to Bruce because he was on a mission to save his home. After years of fighting, he finally received the loan modification agreement with the bank and saved his home from the grasps of foreclosure.
Ailton’s experience is a reminder of the psychological price an economic crisis and possible home loss is to the human psyche: “I had lost hope in humanity. At a time when I thought it was impossible to find humanity anywhere, I met Bruce and it changed my mind. There are good people out there. “We” are so few and far between that sometimes it’s hard to believe we exist. I count myself amongst the kind and humane and I’m glad to know that there’s Bruce out there. Somehow the world is not such a lonely place anymore.”
Bruce garners his passion to help others in part because he and his family personally experienced economic hardship in their lives. Self-described as “classic yuppies”, they had a good life and solid income until health issues hit both him and his wife within a 9 month period.
Bruce says, “Thankfully neither situation was life-threatening, but they were serious and debilitating. Despite good health insurance and ultimately disability coverage, our incomes dropped drastically and we struggled to survive. At this time our three children were ages 13, 10 and 6. My wife’s situation, when finally diagnosed, meant she was unable to continue in her field, meaning her ability to earn a good income had been permanently reduced.”
Eventually Bruce was able to return to a relatively full work level, but by then he was in his late 40’s and considered “too old and expensive” for the high tech world. After a long legal fight he arrived at a settlement with the last high tech firm he was employed by and was able to buy into a local ceramics business.
Bruce and his wife managed to continue to scrape by. But in late 2006 the ceramics business began to falter as the economy started to slide and so did their income, again. By the summer of 2007 it was clear that the business was in trouble and the market had dried up.
Bruce says, “Prior to our own financial problems I had – for over 10 plus years – helped advise people regarding financial planning and putting together financial strategies to deal with income loss on the side. Full time I worked for and with major financial organizations including those that handled mortgages and other loan servicing matters. So although I had not personally experienced financial difficulty until this time, I was knowledgeable and familiar with a good deal of the relevant financial systems, both the good and bad and from both the process side and technologically.”
On April 1, 2009 the Federal Government introduced the Making Home Affordable (MHA) program and the primary Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). It was the introduction of HAMP and the number of people seeking help, along with resistance to HAMP that led to Bruce founding HSI in July of 2009.
Many of his clients experience a very high emotional toll throughout this process.
“The emotional toll is the hardest and most gut wrenching part of what I and HSI do. We and our staff are well aware of the emotional toll and stress financial issues, particularly mortgage issues, can have on people. Health, family, jobs – everything suffers and we are constantly working with folks to help them avoid or at least manage issues as best as they can.”
But he reiterates that their clients are also resilient and tough “which they have to be to survive this process. They have to be [resilient] to get to us. The vast majority of our clients come to us after multiple
previous attempts to handle their financial issues with their lender – some on their own and then with assistance of all kinds. We explain from the start that ‘intestinal fortitude,’ patience, understanding this process and setting realistic goals and expectations, are all keys to getting the desired outcome – be it a loan modification, short sale, restructuring or other appropriate alternative.”
It is this unique approach, combining empathy with planned strategy as well as partnerships with the banks and their servicers that has set HSI apart and allowed them to be a resource to Laurie and Ailton, and hundreds more.
Bruce reiterates that his goal in founding HSI Trust – HomeSavers was to create “a win-win proposition, one that understands the client’s as well as the servicer’s goals, and works to marry the two via formal processes. Rather than simply submit docs and wait, we went after the servicers as partners. We believe and have shown that a win-win approach works.”
It is an approach that is helping Americans save their homes, if they can muster up that last ounce of tenacity within that would allow them to search out the support they need to take on this grueling fight.
*Bank of America was contacted for a statement, but declined to comment.
**HSI Trust saved the author’s home from foreclosure this fall.