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Demonstrations Held Outside Countrywide Branches

The community activist group ACORN, or Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, demonstrated outside several Countrywide branches on Tuesday, claiming the beleaguered lender was doing little to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.

At a branch in San Bruno, CA, protestors armed with signs marked, “Save Homes, Stop Foreclosures” chanted “Predatory Lender” as they picketed outside.

At one point, the demonstrators knocked on the door to confront employees, but the doors had been locked, and there was no response from staff within.

One former Countrywide customer who was part of the group claimed that the mortgage rate on the subprime loan she was given three years ago had spiked from 6.5 to 12 percent today, making mortgage payments unmanageable and leaving her with few options aside from foreclosure.

“They said I have no options. They want me to put the house for sale or short sell or just leave the house,” said Esthela Baldovinos.

David Sharples from the San Mateo County division of ACORN said, “So far Countrywide has been very unwilling to modify these loans.”

Later in the day, the mortgage lender sent a statement to ABC7, saying, “”It’s concerned with the rising levels of delinquencies and foreclosures,” and that it was reaching out to distressed homeowners.

The protests come just weeks after Countrywide said it had provided homeownership preservation assistance on approximately 35,000 mortgages so far this year.

In a recent press release, Steve Bailey, Senior Managing Director of Loan Administration at Countrywide said, “Our number one priority is to help borrowers stay in their homes.”

That press release also noted that their efforts to help homeowners avoid foreclosure were diminished because, “Twenty percent of borrowers never make contact with the company during their foreclosure process.”

Not so much the case with the customer-cum-protestor and many other homeowners who seem to feel that the lender would rather have them foreclose than offer a viable loan modification.

Countrywide sent out an internal e-mail citing the ACORN protests, detailing a set of directions on how to handle the protests, advising employees not to comment or engage in conversation with the group.

The question remains whether Countrywide is to blame for extending these loans, or if borrowers should ultimately be held accountable for understanding the terms of the loan documents they sign at closing.

A foreclosure brochure from ACORN says, “Many people are losing their homes because they were put into predatory loans that they couldn’t afford.”

Regardless of who’s right or wrong, it’s clear that more needs to be done to avoid a foreclosure epidemic.

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