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The city of Watts rejoiced last Tuesday after receiving the news that community activist Millicent "Mama" Hill, 67, whose home was threatened with foreclosure, has been granted a 90-day reprieve by her mortgage company.
Concerned about the violence, drugs, and poverty that confronted Watts youths on a daily basis, Hill became recognized in Watts after she opened an afterschool program in her home seven years ago. Mama Hill's Help, Inc., a non-profit organization that has assisted over 1,000 children by providing mentoring, food, clothing, and recreational activities, is a well-known institution in the Watts community, and Hill has received many accolades for her work with youth.
Hill, a retired schoolteacher, was close to losing her home when the grassroots organization ACORN's foreclosure program located a buyer willing to purchase Hill's home. The buyer is willing to rent the home to the community organizer until she is able to rebuy the property. "I'm trying to raise funding now to ensure that I have all the expenditures needed to allow me to rent the property until I can qualify to rebuy," said Hill.
Hill received the good news by telephone from ACORN spokespeople Tuesday morning that the doors of her Watts home and afterschool program will remain open.
The news is a victory for Hill and ACORN, whose members aggressively negotiated with Hill's mortgage lender to save her home.
Before the reprieve was announced, Hill faced a bank of television cameras Saturday and pleaded that her home be saved so that her work with young people could continue.
Compton Councilman Isadore Hall joined activists, homeowners, and supporters to decry the spiraling number of foreclosures that have caused thousands of homeowners throughout Southern California and the country to forfeit their dreams of homeownership.
"These homeowners have worked so hard and now they're facing being put out on the street," said Hall, who said he would be working diligently to fight foreclosures in the coming months. "It's outrageous when homeowners work so hard to pay for their homes like Ms. Hill and many others and then face losing them to predatory lenders. The problem is that when a house is vacated it attracts crime. We will not stand for these foreclosures and we will stand with Mama Hill and others who are fighting these lending institutions."
ACORN's foreclosure avoidance program, which works with HUD-certified loan counselors to negotiate for adjusted mortgages for homeowners, helped 4,000 homeowners avoid foreclosure last year.
Every day after school, children rush to the tiny clapboard home that houses Mama Hill's Help, Inc. to eat a hot meal, tinker on their computers, and receive counseling and support from caring adults.
Valerie Shaw, a friend of Hill's for 15 years, said that the community activist's humanitarian efforts have been a "godsend" for Watts. "I've worked with Hill and seen babies who came to her program grow into productive citizens. This is a home that is saving lives," maintained Shaw.
But like thousands of homeowners facing foreclosures across the country, Hill's beloved home had fallen under the curse of the mushrooming mortgage payments.
Hill said her troubles began a few years ago, when she fell behind on mortgage payments. Hill, who had a subprime loan, said she desperately attempted to work out an arrangement with her lender, Avelo Mortgage, offering to pay off the arrears and resume regular payments.
"When I started the loan, I had a 7-point interest rate. But they said my credit was so bad, they changed it to a 10.7-point interest rate," said Hill, who said the mortgage on her home jumped from $2,900 a month to $4,000 a month.
During the press conference, a number of homeowners revealed horror stories of predatory lenders demanding astronomical mortgage payments and stripping them of their dream of homeownership.
ACORN activist Joe Stringer said that the spiraling foreclosures that are crippling many families across the country are occurring because homeowners were misled and misinformed when they originally took out a home loan. "Many foreclosures could have been avoided if buyers had been given the right information about the financial situation and interest rates," Stringer pointed out. "All the brokers want to do is sell the home and make a profit. They don't care about the buyer," Stringer maintained.
"Our political leaders need to so something about this foreclosure crisis," said ACORN organizer, Abdullah Muhammad. "They sit on their hands until this foreclosure mess becomes an epidemic. Now they're scrambling to try to do something at the state, federal, and local levels," said Muhammad.
To find out more about ACORN's foreclosure avoidance program, call 1-866-67-ACORN.