Ohio foreclosure prompts suicide attempt
Published Oct 9, 2008 9:19 PM
Scam artists who prey on the elderly are generally not able to elicit much
public sympathy. Nor are they likely to get much assistance when they fall upon
hard times. True or false?
That depends on whether it’s an individual predator or a corporate
predator. Last month the troubled Federal National Mortgage
Association—“Fannie Mae”—was deemed worthy of a
$200-billion taxpayer bailout.
Fannie Mae is again in the spotlight after the suicide attempt of 90-year-old
Addie Polk. On Oct. 1 this Akron, Ohio, widow shot herself in the chest rather
than be put out of the home she and her late husband had lived in since 1970.
Now Polk has been declared “the poster child for this foreclosure crisis
we are facing” by Akron City Council President Marco Sommerville. (Akron
Beacon Journal, Oct. 3)
The Polks purchased their home for $10,000 and paid off the initial mortgage in
1982. In 1994 Robert Polk, a retired rubber worker, passed away, and by 1997
Addie Polk had taken out a second mortgage for $21,000. She paid it off in 2001
by taking out another mortgage for $46,400, which she in turn refinanced again
in 2004 with a $45,620 mortgage from the notorious and now defunct predator,
Countrywide Home Loans.
This endless cycle of getting out of debt by going into more debt was explained
by Mellanie Rittenour, who worked for MBNA America from 2000 until 2006.
“It was required practice in the collections department to ask customers
with credit card trouble if they owned a home. If the answer was
‘yes,’ the call was immediately transferred to the mortgage
department. Failure to do so led to a dock in bonus pay.” (ABJ, Oct.
Then the home is typically appraised above its market value, leaving the
homeowner owing more than the house can possibly be sold for. This is how Addie
Polk found herself in foreclosure in September 2007, after which Fannie Mae
took over the loan from Countrywide. When the sheriff’s sale was
conducted last June, Fannie Mae bought the home from itself for
$28,000—though on the books Polk owed $45,000.
On Sept. 30 Polk confirmed by phone that she would be escorted from her home
the next day. On Oct. 1 police came to her home, but after Fannie Mae
representatives failed to appear, they began to leave. After hearing gunshots,
a neighbor, using a ladder to get in a second-floor window, found Polk wounded.
She was rushed to the hospital and is now recovering.
Fannie Mae now states it will forgive the mortgage and allow Polk to stay in
her home. This action came about only after Cleveland Congressman Dennis
Kucinich described the incident—“a human face for a great national
tragedy”—on the House floor during the bailout debate. (ABJ, Oct.
While one elderly woman’s nightmare may be over, the “great
national tragedy” will undoubtedly drive more of those facing eviction
and foreclosure to desperate acts. In the past year there have been a number of
fatal suicides and murder-suicides tied to home loss in Oregon, Texas, Indiana
“Loss of a home ranks with loss of a close loved one and loss of a job as
among the top causes of extreme stress and despair for people,” explained
Dr. Bruce Cohen, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, after the
July suicide of Carlene Balderrama in Taunton, Mass. (ABC News Medical Unit,
There could well be more such tragedies in Ohio where the foreclosure rate is
one of the highest in the country and the unemployment rate is second only to
Michigan. Akron is one of the hard-hit areas in the state. According to Council
President Sommerville there were 99 foreclosures in one month just on the
city’s East Side where Polk lives. (ABJ, Oct. 3)
The twin crises of unemployment and home loss are not unrelated. While housing
prices are lower in the Great Lakes region than in much of the U.S., the steel,
auto and rubber bosses have destroyed jobs and driven down wages to the point
that owning a home is now unaffordable for many.
The scenario of blocks and blocks with boarded-up houses has forced housing
values to fall. This, combined with the predatory practices of mortgage
lenders, has made it nearly impossible for working people to escape the cycle
Ohio activists have begun discussions on launching a campaign for a moratorium
on foreclosures and evictions.
Articles copyright 1995-2012 Workers World.
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