John Graybill and Patricia Goff planned to have a large group of friends, family and Occupy Marin supporters at their side Wednesday to greet Marin County Sheriff’s deputies when they came to evict them from their foreclosed Eastwood Way home for the past 33 years.
Such a standoff was averted, at least temporarily, when Marin County Superior Court Judge Faye D'Opal granted the couple a two-week eviction reprieve Monday morning. But Graybill and Goff say Wells Fargo Bank, which took ownership of the two-nedroom home last fall, will have a fight on its hands when the eviction proceedings commence.
“Regardless of when they show, we’ll be ready, and there will be a lot of us,” the 61-year-old Graybill said. “We want to send Wells a message that they’re not going to get away with what they’re doing. We’re not going away.”
Like thousands of people across the country, the downward spiral for Graybill and Goff started with the economic collapse of late 2008. The couple took out a pair of home equity loans in the late 2000s, the second of which was for more than half the appraised value of their home and featured an adjustable interest rate and balloon payments.
The predicament was exacerbated when Goff, who has had back pain for many years, was badly injured in a car accident with an uninsured motorist near Sebastopol in March 2010. Graybill, a contractor and cabinet maker, said he’s been forced to drastically reduce his work hours over the past few years to care for his wife, thus cutting into their income.
“We’ve never been able to get back on our feet since then,” he said.
Wells Fargo began the foreclosure process in the spring of 2011. A few months later, Goff, an event producer who co-founded the now-defunct Mill Valley Jazz Arts Society in 2003, fell down in Yosemite National Park, breaking both her ankles and incurring a $7,000 ambulance bill, according to Graybill.
The couple has been hoping for a 90-day grace period from Wells Fargo to allow them to generate some revenue and get back on terms. But they’ve been unable to slow the process enough to get ahead, Graybill said. They were served an eviction notice last Thursday.
That’s where Occupy Marin has stepped in, getting behind the couple in a number of ways. The group is urging supporters to call Wells Fargo to protest the eviction, and to sign up for be part of a rapid response team that will occupy the couple’s home when eviction is imminent.
Occupy Marin is also set to hold a rally in support fo the couple at 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Fourth Street downtown plaza in San Rafael. The organization has been holding rallies for months to “demand fairness for the 99% and to bring attention to the mortgage crisis here in Marin,” according to San Anselmo resident and Occupy Marin spokesperson Pat Johnstone.
The plight of Graybill and Goff is representative of a much larger issue that got a major boost earlier this month when a pair of bills (SB 900 and AB 278), jointly called the Homeowners Bill of Rights, passed the state Legislature and are set to go into effect at the beginning of 2013.
The laws get at the heart of what Graybill said has been most frustrating in his dealings with Wells Fargo. The legislation would make California the first state to prohibit lenders from "dual tracking," the practice of negotiating with clients to modify a mortgage so that payments become more affordable while simultaneously pursuing foreclosure. Graybill said slowing the eviction process so they could negotiate a plan with Wells Fargo has been maddening.
The law will also allow homeowners to sue lenders to stop foreclosures or seek monetary damages if the lender breaks state law.
“This measure should bring fairness and transparency to a foreclosure process that has been harmful to homeowners and our community,” Johnstone said. “But the foreclosures have to stop now so people in crisis can be helped by the new law.”