The Foreclosure Garden Story

This blog is about gardening on a foreclosed property. Posts are mainly about the gardens progress with the occasional post about foreclosures.
To get up to speed on the project go to the first few posts which tell the story of the property and how the garden came into being.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The new sod

Today the new sod arrived as well as sprinklers to deliver water to the whole neighborhood! A homeless man was standing in front of the gate "showering" when I got home from work. Water is currently streaming down the gutter by the gallon. If this continues I'll see if I can divert some to the parkway garden.
My last conversation with the realtor revealed a few worrying details. First he said that the gang members had actually rented the house from him!!!! Everyone thought they had taken it over and were squatting and perhaps that's what happened eventually. I then wondered if I could actually figure out a price for how much tax payer money was spent getting the gang out of 820. Helicopters every weekend. Closing down the street on multiple occasions, subsequent investigations, etc, etc.
Now that the house has all that sod and the homeless have a nice cool place to shower maybe some nice family will move in and I can give them a pumpkin seedling.
I did go to my local B of A, expecting to be brushed off or given a phone number to an endless phone tree but instead was taken into the office of a banking center manager and was able to give an account of what happened along with a picture of the henchman. He took down a report and gave me his card.
A second neighbor told me today that he had also walked by henchman before he had the garden pulled out and said he was yelling into his cell phone about the garden so he was enraged by it before I went over there. This is some comfort since I thought he was just totally bonkers. I wonder if he would have been equally enraged had he gone to the house to find the front yard piled high with trash and weeds...
I was inspired to make use of one of the bullet holes in my house though! I am using it to tie up my errant bougainvillea!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Blind Guerilla Gardener takes to the street

The foreclosure Garden blog is actively looking for stories about gardening during this housing bubble burst depression. I would like to feature stories about people gardening on foreclosed properties or gardening to help avoid foreclosure.
This is an inspiring video of a blind gardener beautifying his street in England. Enjoy!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The day After

This morning I was thinking about the conversation I had with the real estate guy Phil Missig who has a site called I had called him after the garden was destroyed and told him how disappointed I was with his decision to let his henchman destroy the garden. He claims it wasn't his decision but I get the feeling it was. He said the henchman was a "really nice guy" and "was great when you need someone like that on your side." hmmm.... He then went on to say that he was trying to get the remaining tenants out so he could sell the property.
So I did a little research this morning on tenants rights and found out that neither he nor the bank can legally evict the remaining tenants. They have lived there for 20 years. Here's the law for LA (this is different in different states and in California, in different counties):
You cannot be evicted in a foreclosure if:
1) You entered into your lease before the current mortgage was recorded: The first
exception applies if you entered into a lease before the mortgage that is the
subject of the current foreclosure was finalized. This can occur:
• If you entered into a lease with a prior owner of the property (e.g. the owner
you entered into the lease with is NOT the owner that holds the current
mortgage that is the subject of the foreclosure)
• the owner you entered into a lease with, refinanced (took out a loan on the
property) the property after you entered into a lease, which resulted in
In such cases,
The new owner may have to honor the lease or work out an arrangement
with you.
You are responsible to the new owner for rent from the date of sale
In some cases you may have to pay rent again and then attempt to recover
the overpayment from the previous owner.

So I printed this up and went to visit the neighbors in question. We had a nice chat and I gave them my phone number along with the info I printed just in case they should ever need it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Last Day in the Garden

This morning the garden was doing beautifully. The mortgage tomatoes were gigantic,

and the corn was coming along so nicely.
But then I noticed a truck pull in to the back. My neighbor A came over and said he was concerned. Some man had been talking angrily about the garden. We decided to go talk to him. I was optimistic. The last crew that had been there had sealed up the crawl space under the house and some kittens were trapped inside. C who feeds and keeps track of all the neighborhood cats had come over and the guy had unscrewed the grates and let us put a have a heart trap in. We got one cat in the trap and had made sure all the cats were safetly out.

I went over and introduced myself as a neighbor who is concerned about the house and property. I asked if he had a business card. He told me to f*#k off and get off his property. I said I thought this was a foreclosed property but that if he owned it than I would leave. He said he worked for Bank of America and then threatened to call the police and swore at me in a very threatening manner. I tried to tell him I was just a concerned neighbor and if he were there to take care of the place than that was great but we had had some problems in the past with squatters. We have all heard stories of people showing up at foreclosed houses and stealing all the copper. I knew that Bank of America did not own the property, so I was suspicious.
The Mean Man reporting to the police that I am waving a gun at him...

I'm not sure if he was perhaps drunk because I didn't feel I had said anything by this point that was inappropriate, but he said he was going to call the police. I said I just wanted a business card from him and I would be on my way. He then said his name was Phil Missig, the realtor whose sign in the window promises the property will be "coming soon". Since I have met Phil Missig (his partner had sold us our house!), I was now very worried. He proceeded to call the police and report that I was waving a gun at him. A and I were thunderstruck at this guy's crazy behavior.

I then called Phil Missig and told him there was This Man claiming to be Him and claiming to work for B of A. He explained that B of A has some deal with the Bank of New York- which only owns part of the property but that Phil is trying to persuade the bank to sell. It all seems wildly complicated and doubtful since ownership is actually unclear. As I understand it, mortgages were bundled like stocks and sold off in pieces to make the banks seem as if they had less bad loans then they did. The neighbors had planted a small garden in the front yard as a way of keeping the house looking tidy. I asked Phil if this were alright and if he would let the garden remain. He said of course and that it was great that the community was taking care of the yard in this way. He then called The Man (who never told me his name), and told him to leave the garden.

So this is how the banks take care of their property...

It is a sad day for The Foreclosure Garden and for the people who have enjoyed watching it grow for the past few months. We managed to keep the building graffiti-free for three months.
I am not sure what to make of Phil. Evidently part of the property extends back to a house that enters by way of Merwin Street. He is actively trying to evict long term tenants so he can sell the property. I don't know them but so many renters have been driven from their homes, first because of the housing bubble, and now due to foreclosures. Just because a bank owns a property why should the tenants pay for their bad policies? He told me he asked the Mean Man to preserve the garden. I called Phil and told him I felt he was to blame for the garden's destruction. He called me back and apologized, but then said it was The Bank and not him who had hired the guy.

I never did get the guys name. I should try and get a contact name at B of A from Phil. I urged him to hire a local gardener to take care of the place but Phil says that's not his job.

I have started some sunflower seeds- about two hundred Sunzillas. Maybe that will be next? I will see what happens with the space.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

NPR's Marketplace modification madness interview

I sent my post from 6/11/10 as a letter to politicians and various news sources. Last week, while driving across the country from Vermont in a rental truck, I got an email from Marketplace asking if I could come by their Los Angeles studio to talk with them. Somewhere on RT 40, we said we couldn't make it but they asked if we could swing by an affiliate station in Albuquerque. I read part of my post (slightly edited) and then answered questions about our experiences with Chase Bank.
The show will air this weekend. You can also hear it online and read the letter at the marketplace website.


Our neighbor Jessica contacted me on Facebook a few days before our return to tell me that the corn was "like 9' tall!" I was eager to see how the gardens were all doing. Powdery mildew had invaded the pumpkin in both the foreclosure garden and the parkway garden and I had cut the infected leaves off before leaving on my trip.
When I got back I saw the corn was really 9' tall. Phil the real estate agent had obviously been by and moved his sign from the window now blocked by the corn to one with more visibility.
The day I left when I was mulching the garden I had seen a guy walk past a few times and then discreetly slip into the back driveway of the house. I remembered S saying that someone had been living back there but had figured he was re calling someone from before the foreclosure and gang takeover. I did see a door open into the back building later on that day. I will have to ask S. who it is. I don't want to interfere with his living arrangement. He's got to have permission from S. to be there anyway. We all get permission from S. whether asked for or not- he bestows his approval and thus it appears as if he had given approval. I tend to ask his opinion which then gives him a chance to approve or disapprove. As mayor this is his job.
I am at a loss with the pumpkin vines. last night I cut more infected leaves off. The cucumbers are looking a bit shabby but there are some massive green mortgage lifter tomatoes beginning to ripen. They really need a lot more support than the little poles I set up before I left. The powdery mildew pretty much killed all the pumpkin and squash plants that were crowding out the tomatoes in the parkway garden and now the tomatoes need more support. I'll have to figure that out. There are lots of green tomatoes. Maybe I should give up on staking them and just let them vine over the little raised bed. I feel so tired from our drive cross country drive and the unpacking and sorting that needs to be done that the thought of dealing with rogue vines is too much. I will need to ask Gonzalo what he thinks we should do.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Lasagna mulch

The day before leaving for three weeks on a trip to Vermont I got a bit worried about my gardens so I borrowed a truck and went to DaMoors Feed and Tack in Burbank to pick up some straw. A very young girl named Mallory who works there suggested I get one bale of straw and one bale of Alfalfa and layer the two. The straw is great mulch but the Alfalfa provides nitrogen. So instead of packing for my trip I spent the hours before my flight lasagna mulching the foreclosure garden and all my garden beds and the worlds smallest community garden (I think I'll start calling it the parkway garden from here on.)
I hooked up a hose with a nozzle at the FC garden so that the neighbors could thoroughly wet down the garden the next evening- the 4th of July- which can get a little out of hand on this block.
I then spent my whole flight feeling like such an idiot for putting all that flammable material down. Our tenant promised to be home and wet down the house gardens as well as keep an eye on them that night. Last year had been a pretty mild fourth but the year before....
The year before was when the gang had taken over the house and they put on a stadium display from the street in front of the garden. It was amazing. Giant guys in giant white t shirts hoisting crates of fireworks walked out into the middle of the street and set them all off at once while holding them above their heads. One younger guy dropped his crate and giant fireworks displays went shooting down the block, skimming the pavement. A new style was born. Meanwhile kids with bottle rockets took aim at one another on the sidewalk playing war while their parents looked on and laughed. Bill and I sat on the roof watching in amazement shouting greetings to neighbors through the growing clouds of smoke and trying to let go of our panicky worry for the safety of the kids' fingers.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Celebrating Freedom in the world of self-regulated corporations

The following article appearing last month in Propublica, which does a great job exposing the Making Homes Affordable loan modification program as the disaster it is. We applied for this program in December because it seemed like such a great idea. As I have written in earlier posts, we are in this "logjam." And now, even with a near perfect credit score we have had credit cards cancelled and been denied loans just because we applied for the making homes affordable program. Our bank Chase, reports all applicants with the same message, that the applicant is negligent in paying their mortgage even if the applicant, like us, has never been late or missed a payment...
Here's the Propublica article. The comment to this article is especially interesting.

Loan Mod Logjam Continues for 265,000 Homeowners; Failures Jump

New data released Monday shows that the administration's mortgage modification program continues to be plagued by delays and disappointment for hundreds of thousands of homeowners.

Of the 1.2 million homeowners who have begun a modification in the last year, about 265,000 have been stuck in "trial" periods for six months, double the three months that trial periods are supposed to last.

Are you a homeowner who's struggling to pay your mortgage? Are you seeking a loan modification through the government program? We want to hear from you.

The number of homeowners dropped from the program also continues to rise, meaning that many homeowners can expect to wait more than half a year for a decision from their mortgage servicer only to then be dropped from the program.

You can see our interactive breakdown of the data here. It shows which mortgage servicers are primarily responsible for the continued logjam.

The delays have long been a problem with the program: we reported in January that nearly 100,000 homeowners had been stuck in a trial period for over six months. Homeowners and advocates frequently complain that mortgage servicers ask for the same documents over and over, give contradictory information, and make mistakes. Nearly 1,000 homeowners have written to ProPublica over the last year to tell us their stories about seeking a mortgage modification, and we continue to hear the same complaints.

The prolonged trials hurt homeowners by damaging their credit, increasing the balance of their mortgage, and preventing them from saving for the possibility of foreclosure. Homeowners who are rejected after prolonged trials sometimes find themselves worse off than if they'd never been in a trial.

As we reported back in February, JPMorgan Chase, one of the largest mortgage servicers, has a particularly large backlog. The Treasury Department reports (PDF) that approximately 72 percent of its active trials, approximately 86,000 homeowners, have been in trials for longer than six months. Chase spokeswoman Christine Holevas pointed to a "number of steps" that Chase had taken to improve its performance, such as hiring additional staff and holding "homeowner's assistance" events, but did not offer an explanation for why it has lagged so far behind the other servicers.

Saxon Mortgage, a much smaller servicer that is a subsidiary of Morgan Stanley, had a similarly large backlog. A spokesperson did not respond to our question on Monday, but told us three months ago that the company had "launched a number of proactive programs" to clear the backlog.

During a conference call Monday, administration officials said they have posted the data about the backlogs in order to put pressure on the lagging servicers. At the same time, Phyllis Caldwell, a Treasury official heading the mortgage modification program, offered a host of reasons for why servicers might be lagging, ranging from double-checking on denials to making sure in-house alternatives are available for those who are dropped from the government program.

Treasury has long warned servicers that they need to clear the backlogs, but it has also failed to crack down. The government issued rules in late December, warning that lenience would end at the end of February. When we reported on the backlog in February, a Treasury spokesperson warned that lagging servicers could face penalties. Three months later, no penalties have been levied. Caldwell and TARP chief Herb Allison said that they'd recently sat down with servicers, who had committed to clearing their backlog by the end of June.

Of course, there are two ways the backlog could be cleared: either through permanent modifications or from homeowners being dropped from the program.

Treasury officials have estimated that between one-third and one-half of all trials will fail. Currently, that rate is running closer to one-half. So far, nearly as many homeowners have been dropped from the program (278,000) as have begun a permanent mod (299,000). Allison and Caldwell said they expected the cancellations to continue to rise as the servicers cleared their backlogs.

Trials can be canceled because the homeowners don't make the trial payments or are otherwise disqualified by the servicers. As we have reported, those disqualifications have sometimes been illegitimate. The officials said disputations by homeowners or housing counselors are another reason for the continued backlog.

Our interactive chart shows the cancellation rate at each of the larger servicers in the program. Some are already near 50 percent. Some have denials that are artificially low. Bank of America, for instance, by far the largest servicer, has canceled only about 32,000 modifications, about 11 percent of the number of trials started so far. But the bank said last week that it was in the process of mailing "thousands" of homeowners denial letters.

For the homeowners who have successfully navigated the program and received permanent mortgage modifications, there was some good news and bad news in Monday's numbers. The average homeowner in the program saves about $516 per month on the lower mortgage payment, Treasury reported. But that homeowner is also struggling with a sizable amount of other debt: even with the lower mortgage payment, about 64 percent of the average homeowner's pre-tax income is eaten up by monthly debt payments (credit cards, car payments, second mortgage, etc.), a statistic that has made some observers very skeptical about the prospect for these modifications to last. Already, more than 3,700 homeowners who were granted permanent mods have fallen out of the program.



May 20, 10:55 p.m.

It is important to note that when you are in the “trial mod” period, you are actually falling further behind in your payments. The bank wont tell you this. Each trial mod payment is only a half payment and puts you 1/2 month behind. Furthermore, it is in the banks best financial interest not to modify because the loans are insured for original amount of the principal in the event you default. Once the home is foreclosed on, the bank buys back the property (after receiving the insurance payment of the full original principal) and sells it at a substantial profit. The banks are NOT losing money, and in fact makes ungodly profits from the foreclosures.