A few dozen rallied in front of the building that houses a branch of PNC bank July 26, demanding that the bank not foreclose on Yin Wong, an elderly Bayview resident who says the bank is foreclosing on her illegally.
Wong says she never missed a mortgage payment on the home that she and her family have lived in since 2001. She was paying through electronic transfer, where payments were automatically transferred from her bank account monthly. She says that in October 2009, she discovered the bank had rejected her previous two payments. The next month, she received a foreclosure notice for non-payment.
“I never said I cannot pay,” Wong says. She says after she was tracked for foreclosure, all efforts to pay were refused, even though she had the money.
“If it happened to another person, I wouldn’t believe it. But it happened to me,” Wong said, adding that “In other countries all over the world this wouldn’t happen…just America, of freedom and democracy.”
Protesters chanted in support of Wong and blocked the main entrance to 575 California, where PNC has offices. A security guard said the building hadn’t seen that kind of demonstration since it housed Chevron.
Activists compare Wong’s case to that of the Cruz family, who also had their electronic transfer payments to PNC rejected without explanation, resulting in being tracked for foreclosure and eviction from their Minnesota home. Their case galvanized national support and made headines when they travelled with supporters to PNC’s Pittsburgh headquarters last week.
Wong has received support from the Eviction Defense Collaborative (EDC), and two attorneys from the group were at the rally protesting on her behalf. One EDC lawyer, Deepa Varma, said that even with fairly obvious illegal foreclosures such as Wong’s, homeowners usually lose in the courts. The EDC would often warn clients that fighting against banks in these cases was a largely unwinnable uphill battle.
But she said the recent push to fight back against foreclosures, fueled largely by various Occupy efforts, has changed all that.
“A year before Occupy, the position in our office was to say, you’ll just have to move,” said Varma. “It would have felt impossible”
But now, Varma said, “there’s more of us, and people have actually made it happen. The turning point for me was seeing Josephine get back in her house,” she said. Josephine Tolbert, 76, was locked out of her home was little warning last fall. After pressure from activists, including Occupy the Hood SF, Occupy San Francisco, and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Tolbert has now received a loan modification and is back in her home.
“After that I was like, anything is possible so long as they realize we’re not going to keep quiet outside the courts,” Varma said.
Wong has been working with the EDC since she was served her first eviction notice three years ago.
California is a non-judicial foreclosure state, meaning local governments automatically enforce foreclosures that lenders call for. Foreclosure cases are generally not reviewed unless a homeowner challenges a lender legally. Then, according to Varma, lenders need only prove that they filed appropriate eviction paperwork to prove their case—not that the foreclosure itself has legal merit.
Wong wanted to go to trial to prove her case, Varma said. “She said, I did everything right. I have nothing to hide.” But PNC wanted to settle the case through a series of motions of summary judgment. “They filed motion after motion,” recounts Varma, saying that courts almost always decide in favor of lenders in these types of motion. But Wong’s case was unusual– “we kept beating them.”
After three years, PNC finally beat Wong at a bench trial last month when a judge ruled against her. Their win was only based on being able to prove to the judge that they had record of the appropriate paperwork in Wong’s foreclosure preceedings, not that Wong had missed payments, meriting the foreclosure in the first place, according to EDC attorney Josh Schieber.
Scheiber said that while he’s been working on Wong’s case, she has consistently tried to submit her payments and on the occasions offered to pay the whole mortgage. The bank doesn’t seem interested.
But Wong refuses to give up, and she hopes that the confrontation yesterday might have reopened those lines of communication.
Wong and an interpreter from Occupy Bernal waited in the building’s lobby about 45 minutes while supporters chanted “keep Yin in her home.”
“They want to make me become homeless, but they still don’t want to talk to me,” Wong said as she waited, guessing “they’re scared because they know they did the wrong thing.”
PNC sent down a representative to meet with Wong who assured her that he would fax the documents that she had brought with her, evidence of the unlawful foreclosure, to corporate headquarters
Wong and her family are scheduled for eviction Wednesday.
“I hope they postpone it so we can keep talking,” Varma said.