VETERANS RETURNING FROM WAR FACE FORECLOSURE AND NO JOBS

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EDITOR’S COMMENT: One thing I believe we should all agree about — a veteran returning from a foreign war where he or she risked life and limb fighting for their country should be treated as heroes, each and every one of them. It’s bad enough that the securitization scam has already hit more than 5 million homes and is estimated to hit at least another 10 million. It’s worse that those foreclosures are mostly bogus brazen theft of homes and dreams of Americans to satisfy a greedy impulse by Banks who simply don’t care whether they actually have any money in the deal — they just want the house if they can get it.

But to foreclose on a returning veteran, dispossess him or her from their home, and deprive them of the right to feed and house their family is beyond tragic in its implications for our national values. There are plenty of alternatives even if the foreclosures were legal. As a society, we owe them more than that.

FROM WWW.NAPLESNEWS.COM

FORT MYERS — Manny Romero, a Gulf War veteran, has lost his home.

His modest two-bedroom home in south Fort Myers sold at a foreclosure auction Wednesday. He doesn’t have a job. His lender has threatened to repossess his car. Times couldn’t get much tougher.He is living on his faith.

His volunteer work with the nonprofit Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation in Cape Coral – and the emotional support it provides him – helps, too. It’s what keeps him going, giving him the strength to get through another day.

“I can’t find anything more rewarding than what I’m doing. So that really helps my point of view and my strength and faith, in the fact that I’m doing something that’s helping people, helping our veterans,” he said.

Romero’s volunteer job is helping other veterans find jobs and fight foreclosure. An out-of-work paralegal, he’s helped a dozen or more other veterans keep their homes, usually without pay.

Romero, 56, is far from alone in his battles as a veteran. More than 20,000 veterans and military personnel lost their homes last year.

* * * * *

For the country’s most recent veterans, the fight to survive can be much harder because many still are dealing with anxiety and depression following their deployment in Iraq and Afghanistan.

About 70,000 veterans live in Lee County alone. In his volunteer job with the Veterans Foundation, Romero hears stories daily from other veterans who are out of work, can’t pay their bills and don’t have enough money to buy food or clothes. That’s why they come to the foundation’s Del Prado Boulevard headquarters, created in 2009 in Cape Coral by a group of veterans who saw a growing need to serve veterans.

By the numbers

More than 20,000 veterans and military personnel lost their homes last year.

In 2008, Cape Coral-Fort Myers was dubbed the foreclosure capital of the nation. Hundreds of veterans in the area have lost their homes or are about to, said Ralph Santillo, the president and a founder of the Veterans Foundation.

“We’ve got Vietnam veterans in trouble; Korean War veterans in trouble because they can’t keep up with everything that is going on in their lives financially, especially if they are on a fixed income,” he said.

A shortage of jobs is just one of the reasons so many veterans are losing their homes. Like so many others, many veterans had adjustable rate mortgages, which they no longer could afford when their monthly payments shot up.

* * * * *

Romero fought his foreclosure for three years, hoping to stop it because the mortgage holder couldn’t produce the original note. But his time ran out Wednesday after his home was scheduled for auction a third time – and this time it wasn’t canceled. The bank had the winning bid of $17,100.

He has less than two weeks to find a new home. He’s not sure where he will live.

“I have no idea. I don’t have any funds to do anything right now,” Romero said.

He served in the Army for 3/1-2 years before he was honorably discharged, following the emotional break-up of his marriage. He was a calibration specialist, a job he couldn’t find after getting out of the military. He didn’t serve long enough to receive government benefits.

He started a foreclosure help business a few years ago, but was forced to shut it down because of stricter government regulations, he said.

Before he lost his home, Romero was locked out of it by the lender. He broke in because he had nowhere else to go. They’d locked him out before and he found a way in.

He paid $189,000 for his south Fort Myers home near Page Field in 2006 before the market tumbled. Today it’s valued at less than $37,000, Lee property records show.

* * * * *

Until a few weeks ago, Romero had homeless veterans living with him who sought help from the Veterans Foundation when they didn’t know where else to turn.

One of those veterans, Pat Stein, 47, was found sleeping in the foundation’s parking lot, with his son Seth, 16, a 10th-grader. In his 20s, Pat Stein was a machine gunner and sniper in the Marine Corps. He was a truck driver for 25 years, until he left the job a few years ago to take care of his sick aunt, he said.

Romero has helped Stein and other veterans stand on their own feet again, despite his own troubles. He hopes for his own “happy ending” as he continues to hunt for a paying job. He’s applied for a job selling low-cost funeral arrangements and expects to know soon whether he will be hired.

Greg Kahn/Staff 
 Not sure of what to do, Manny Romero sits at the Upper Crust, a pizza parlor and wine bar in Cape Coral within walking distance of the Invest in America's Veterans Foundation. Romero, locked outside of his home, and with no alternate place to stay, went back to the Veterans Foundation to watch a movie and forget that he was now homeless.Photo by GREG KAHN, Naples Daily News
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Greg Kahn/Staff Not sure of what to do, Manny Romero sits at the Upper Crust, a pizza parlor and wine bar in Cape Coral within walking distance of the Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation. Romero, locked outside of his home, and with no alternate place to stay, went back to the Veterans Foundation to watch a movie and forget that he was now homeless.

“It looks good,” Romero said. “That’s the only positive thing I have right now.”

If he doesn’t come up with $600 soon for two car payments, he will lose his car.

* * * * *

Charlie Center, a Cold War “submarine veteran” who served on the USS Grouper in the 1950s, is fighting to keep his two-bedroom condo in Cape Coral. Now, at 76, he can’t find a job. His wife, Irma, 70, works part-time for the Veterans Foundation and gets paid through an on-the-job training program for seniors called Experience Works, which is supported by federal dollars.

“I’ve learned many, many things,” she said. “I hadn’t been in the workforce for many, many years.”

She works 15 hours a week as an assistant office manager doing whatever she needs to do to help out. She earns minimum wage, but every little bit helps. “The $100 a week keeps our heads above water,” she said.

After the Centers fell behind on their mortgage payments, the couple’s lender put them on a three-month trial, allowing them to pay less. If they’re able to make their last trial payment in December, they might get the opportunity to modify their loan permanently, making it more affordable so they don’t lose their home, which they bought more than 12 years ago. They don’t have an adjustable rate mortgage.

In the past eight years, they’ve both had heart problems and their medical bills have mounted, despite having Medicare.More than four years ago, Charlie Center was abruptly laid off by a construction company in Cape Coral. “His boss told him clean up, you’re done,” his wife recalls.

Greg Kahn/Staff 
 Manny Romero, an Army veteran and volunteer at the Invest in America's Veterans Foundation in Cape Coral, is losing his home to foreclosure. Late one night, Romero speaks to a friend about getting an extra back door key to his house on Arden Street in Fort Myers because the bank had changed the locks on the front door. His home was set to be auctioned the following week.Photo by GREG KAHN, Naples Daily News
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Greg Kahn/Staff Manny Romero, an Army veteran and volunteer at the Invest in America’s Veterans Foundation in Cape Coral, is losing his home to foreclosure. Late one night, Romero speaks to a friend about getting an extra back door key to his house on Arden Street in Fort Myers because the bank had changed the locks on the front door. His home was set to be auctioned the following week.

That’s when the tables turned.

* * * * *

These days, the Centers can be found at the Veterans Foundation almost daily. They share a car and go there together, though she is the only one with a paying job. They’re fed lunch every day they’re there and they usually take a sandwich home to share.

Charlie Center was in the Navy for four years. He worked for RCA for 18 years and he owned a painting franchise for five years in New Jersey. He worked in construction for 33 years in Southwest Florida before he was laid off.

The Centers came to Southwest Florida in 1977, with two children, after her doctor told her she needed to move to a much warmer climate if she wanted to live more than five years. She suffers from a condition that causes thickening of the skin and ulcers.

The Centers don’t know where they would be without the Veterans Foundation and its many volunteers that keep it running.

“They are right there to help you,” Irma said. “They are like family.”

* * * * *

John Aguiar, a veteran of the Gulf War who was an intelligence analyst for the Army during Operation Desert Storm, lost his Cape Coral home to a short sale in 2009. He and his wife, Syrena, both 40, couldn’t afford their mortgage payment after it ballooned and he lost his job with Hanson Building Materials. He worked as a shipping manager for Hanson for nearly six years, until it closed its Fort Myers division, which manufactured and sold brick pavers.

When they built their house in Cape Coral, the Aguiars got a traditional, fixed-rate mortgage, with a good interest rate, he said. But after the city moved up its plans to expand its water and sewer lines to the neighborhood, the couple refinanced with an adjustable rate mortgage to pay a hefty assessment. As interest rates rose, their mortgage payments grew to $2,100 a month for a home they built for $130,000.

Fast facts

John Aguiar, a veteran of the Gulf War who was an intelligence analyst for the Army during Operation Desert Storm, lost his Cape Coral home to a short sale in 2009. He and his wife, Syrena, both 40, couldn’t afford their mortgage payment after it ballooned and he lost his job.

To stay afloat, John Aguiar blew through his retirement savings, including his 401(k) account. He got a $12-an-hour job at Home Depot, but couldn’t make enough to pay his family’s bills. “That’s really not going to cut it,” he said.

So he ended up relocating to Chicago, without his wife and two kids, 14 and 11.

In Chicago, Aguiar lives with his aunt and uncle and works for YRC Worldwide as a dock supervisor. He makes good money, but the cost of living there is so high that if his family relocated there they’d be living in poverty, he said. Plus, he doesn’t want to uproot his kids, who are doing well in school.

He flies down to visit his family as often as he can, if he gets a four-day weekend.

The couple contacted the Veterans Foundation, which helped him qualify for VA benefits. Syrena, living with her parents, hopes to get a paying job with the foundation.

Foundation volunteers are working with the couple to buy a new home through a program that offers federal grants to local governments to buy foreclosures and abandoned homes, fix them up and resell them to lower-income buyers like the Aguiars.

John Aguiar doesn’t expect to be home for the holidays. He’s used up all his vacation time, flying back and forth from Chicago to Fort Myers. If Syrena gets a job, it might be enough to bring him back home – once and for all.

“I can get a job down there. It’s just a matter of whether or not it will support my family,” he said.

Connect with Laura Layden at http://www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden.

3 Responses

  1. Veterans can occupy County Recorders to stall foreclosure crimes
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=gLEFTxSi84k
    or they would be evicted like Israeli Evictions of Palestinians http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLRAFgBh37w

  2. And I really believe that it is the utmost stupidity to go after all the people who bear arms on a regular basis and… know how to shoot them!

    Carie was right: I need a life…
    I need money to have a life.

    Sheesh…!

  3. It’s definitely horrible but it will come back to bite bankers and our government so damn hard, they won’t be able to sit down for a long time to come… That’s what I keep saying: there is a thickness in that cruel stupidity rarely seen in our country. That’s what led to Egypt, Lybia, Syria (still on-going).

    Honestly, if the banks were looking for riots and violence, they wouldn’t act any differently! Makes you wonder if there is any truth to those conspiracy theories…

    BTW, in case you haven’t see it in the other posts, DCB Ohio attorney’s license 0027582… doesn’t exist! He/she was called on it on a post here dated 8/29/2010. Makes no difference though: the truth is out, banks are hurting and shills’ days are counted. Let’s go build that big wall around Capitol Hill and dedicate Capitol Hill Penitentiary!!!

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