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Occupy Group Seeks to Help Maine Homeowners Avoid Foreclosure
11/20/2012   Reported By: Susan Sharon

Maine continues to have one of the highest rates of home foreclosures in New England - about 4.3 percent, according to the Maine Bureau of Consumer Credit Protection. It's a rate that has remained steady, and high, for the past two years. And while Maine homeowners have access to mediation, loan modification and other foreclosure prevention programs, some of them, for whatever reason, are not taking part - and they're getting evicted. As Susan Sharon reports, that's where a splinter group of the Occupy Movement is stepping in to help.

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It happened to Tim Cason (left) of Bowdoinham in August. Cason says he'd gotten behind in his mortgage payments after getting divorced and losing work as a carpenter. Then he found out his bank had sold his original mortgage to a group of investors.

On that basis, he challenged the bank's legal authority to foreclose upon him and fought a subsequent court order. But eventually, he was forced off the property he'd owned for 20 years.

"Nothing happened until August 30th," he says. "About 9:00 a.m., three sheriffs' cruisers showed up, and six deputy sheriffs showed up my doorstep and arrested me on my own land - for trespassing."

After being released on $60 bond, Cason says a deputy gave him a ride back to his place, where he was able to retrieve his computer and a few other belongings. But he wasn't allowed inside again for several weeks. And since then, he says, his life has been turned upside down.

"I've got things in five different places right now," Cason says. "My neighbors are wonderful, they're holding a few things. My neighbors behind me have my two cats. Another neighbor just a mile from where I live offered me their garage to store other things. I'm currently camped at my mother's house in Gardiner."

Cason drives by his empty house every couple of days. He says he'll always think of it as his own even it does get sold. A few weeks ago an auction company planted a sign in the front yard. Cason says he'll just add their name to the lawsuit he plans to file for fraudulent foreclosure against his lender.

It's the kind of problem that has attracted the attention of the Occupy movement.

"We're trying to raise awareness, both of the housing crisis itself, but also the foreclosure fraud that's happening," says William Hessian, who is with a new group called Occupy Our Homes. He's been organizing monthly foreclosure forums in Portland to discuss ways of supporting homeowners facing foreclosure.

Earlier this year, a bill was introduced in the Maine Legislature that would have added more teeth to a requirement that banks produce the original mortgage note in order to foreclose on homeowners. LD 145 was passed by the House and Senate and vetoed by Gov. LePage. Hessian thinks it's something that could have helped Tim Cason with his case.

"I think a lot of this foreclosure work that we're doing and this awareness is to put pressure back on the banks and say that the people aren't going to take this anymore," Hessian says.

Rep. Bobbie Beavers of South Berwick, the original sponsor of LD 145, says she plans to re-introduce it in the next legislative session. Chet Randall of Pine Tree Legal Assistance says it's been well documented that fraudulent foreclosures are occurring. But as someone who helps struggling homeowners, Randall says most of his clients prefer to stay in their homes rather than challenge their lenders.

Randall says one of the best ways to do that is to participate in a foreclosure mediation program. The only requirement is to respond to foreclosure notices and get on board with a repayment plan.

"I'd like to see 100 percent of all homeowners who want to keep their homes responding timely, and getting into the program as soon as possible," Randall says. "The sooner you're engaged, the sooner you participate in mediation, the more likely a positive outcome."

Homeowners 002Randall says Pine Tree is able to work out solutions for about 80 percent of its clients.

Susan Chandall (left) is hoping for a positive outcome in her case. Her eviction has been put on hold while she works out a plan with the court to try to turn her barn-style, four-bedroom home in Brunswick into a non-profit art collective. With little or no income since her partner died, Chandall says she originally hoped to sell the house but says that's been complicated by the closure of the Brunswick Naval Air Station.

"I had planned on selling the house when my son graduated, but I couldn't - the market is so ridiculous in the Brunswick area, especially with the bases and everything, and just the market in general," Chandall says.

Chandall has since declared bankruptcy. And she's now waiting to hear back about whether her new plan will be accepted, or whether she's going to be shown the door.

Photos by Susan Sharon.


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