Mr. Foreclosure goes to Washington
When Colleen Ison-Hodroff’s husband bought a reverse mortgage on their fully-paid home through Financial Freedom, a subsidiary of OneWest, the broker assured the couple that Colleen could keep living there even if her husband passed away.
Yet, just days after her husband’s funeral, Colleen received a notice that she had to immediately pay off the full balance of her loan, or face foreclosure. Today, the 84-year-old Minneapolis woman is still fighting to keep her home.
This is but one of the stories Americans from across the country shared with U.S. Senators this week as the nomination hearing of Steve Mnuchin (pronounced: Men-oo-chin) got underway. Mnuchin, President Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Treasury, led OneWest bank for six years after the 2008 financial crisis, a time span that saw the bank attempt to foreclose on the homes of more than 60,000 families.
The stories themselves were not part of Mnuchin’s hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. Last week, 25 senators wrote to Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT), requesting that Mnuchin’s hearing include witnesses who could provide insight on his tenure running OneWest, which has one of the worst reputations in the nation for foreclosing on families following the financial crisis of 2008.
Hatch refused. So Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) this week convened a “shadow hearing” at which witnesses such as Colleen could share their stories.
“Why would Financial Freedom do this to me?” Colleen asked Warren and other Democratic senators who attended the shadow hearing. “I relied on what I was told, and now they are trying to kick me out of my home. How was I to know that what I was told wasn’t true?”
Other stories told at this week’s event:
Cristina Clifford, an acupuncturist from Carlsbad, California, said she carefully followed OneWest’s instructions for obtaining a loan modification and sent in the required paperwork along with her payment – both included in the same Fed-Ex envelope. OneWest deposited her check but later claimed they never received her paperwork. Cristina ultimately lost her home. “Ridiculous,” she said of OneWest’s behavior. “The reason I am sharing my story is that there are so many people like me who got left behind in the dust.”
Heather McCreary, from Sparks, Nevada, bought their “dream house” in 2006. Heather was a home health care worker; her husband worked in construction. They both lost their jobs as a result of the 2008 crisis, which hit Nevada particularly hard. Her husband eventually found work again, but at a considerably reduced salary.
The couple’s path to foreclosure began when they sent OneWest a personal check for their payment instead of a certified check; OneWest refused to accept it. Heather and her husband tried desperately to get a loan modification; OneWest strung them along for years, Heather says, but then foreclosed so abruptly the couple and their two children lost their home and were out on the street.
“I cried a river of tears over this,” Heather says. “We were desperate to stay in our home…Putting Steve Mnuchin in charge of our financial system is an insult to families like mine.”
Sylvia Oliver, from Scotch Plains, New Jersey, says she has been trying for years to get a loan modification from OneWest, but the bank has refused to work with her in good faith. She actually was scheduled to have her home foreclosed upon this past Wednesday – the day of the shadow hearing – but intervention by U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) delayed the action by 30 days. “As of right now I am still facing foreclosure next month,” Sylvia says. “Nobody should have to go through the experience I’ve gone through with OneWest bank.”
Is there any question that OneWest behaved unethically and even illegally with regard to foreclosures? Warren says there is none, noting that the bank has paid millions of dollars in fines and penalties – including $3 million for mistreating U.S. servicemembers.
But what of Mnuchin’s involvement? He and his investors eventually sold OneWest and, according to Senate Democrats, pocketed nearly $1.5 billion in profits. Still, Mnuchin, who has been nicknamed the “foreclosure king,” denies any impropriety. “I have been maligned as taking advantage of others’ hardships in order to earn a buck,” Mnuchin testified at his hearing on Thursday, according to the Washington Post. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
But some in the Senate are concerned. Critics note that, among other responsibilities, Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary would be responsible for administering loan modification and foreclosure prevention programs established following the 2008 crisis.