SHECP Internship Part 3: The Bronx
The rise of subprime mortgage in 2007 starting in the US was a catalyst for the 2008 global financial crisis, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. The subprime mortgage targets people who have a low-credit and therefore, are more likely to get into default and eventually foreclosure. By 2008, 2.3 million properties in the United States were in foreclosure, an 81% increase from 2007. By August 2009, 14.4% of all mortgages outstanding were either delinquent or in foreclosure.
I arrived late to the Supreme Court in Bronx on my first day in court. I rushed to the sixth floor because I do not want to miss observing court proceedings. Unlike what I imagined, the court was more casual. It was easy to identify who’s lawyers and who’s not. Lawyers dressed professionally while their clients are very casual. Many of clients on the sixth floor were here because of their foreclosure cases.
I opened the door to the courtroom 605 quietly but there wasn’t a trial or anything going on to my surprise. In the courtroom, Jessie was working with some clients. As soon as she saw me, she introduced me to the clients and told them that I will be observing today. Clients did not have any problems with that.
Our clients were here because of their settlement conference. I sat in the conference with them but most of the time I had no idea what’s going on. Perhaps it was my first time in court. There were six of us: our clients who were a married couple, a referee, a bank attorney, and me and Jessie, who appear as the friend of the court. Jessie did not represent our clients, she was here only to give them recommendations during the conference.
Our clients were upset about the foreclosure but it seems they cannot afford the monthly payment. I only remembered that the opposing counselor was talking about some modification and Jessie advised my clients to apply for one. I know it wasn’t my place to ask so I stayed quiet the whole time. The bank attorney was not aggressive but very understanding about our clients’ situation so the conference ended quickly and the referee set up another conference date a month from now.
Our clients thanked us and left. That was only one of fourteen clients we helped on Tuesday. Tuesday is the day we send out our attorneys to different clinics in New York to help people with foreclosure cases. At Bronx, I usually work with Tim and Jessie. We can only assist clients only one day. In very rare circumstances, we would represent them. That never happened in Bronx during my time here.
Our clients show up with different problems, some were in a very early stage of the foreclosure proceedings but some were very late. It’s a relief if our clients show up with a summons and complaints but if there’s a notice of sale, it means their house will be put on auction soon, and that’s what nobody wants.
It’s a surprise to me how the remnant of subprime mortgage crisis is still hurting homeowners in the United States. Despite Obama’s effort with Dodd-Frank, foreclosure rate is continuing to escalate. It’s a never-ending cycle. Our clients usually did not come to the clinic once but multiple times. Sometimes they are lucky enough to be qualified for a modification but few years later they get into delinquent again and there comes a second foreclosure.
“I still have faith. That God will help me if I keep fighting” says a client to us. It was her third time at the clinic. She has very small amount of income because she has two sons: one was disabled and one recently was injured by an accident in the subway system. We rarely saw any clients who have such a strong faith but nonetheless, it’s better than giving up.
I intake at least three or four clients a day and all of them have different stories of how they got into foreclosure. To some of them, a short sale is a good option so that they can get away with their mortgage. But, to my experience, many of them want to fight for the house. They cling on the hope that they will get another job which will be enough to pay for the loans and someday they will pass on the house to their children.
Their rationale was all about the American dream, a melodrama to convince them that their hard work will be paid in the end. In the meantime, they are suffering the endless nightmares of losing their homes and the pressure of making money are holding on their shoulder.