Is a house a home? For Dan and Sheila, their modest condominium in Bayside, Queens is both a house and home. The condominium serves as a physical structure against the natural elements, like rain and snow and the heat from the unforgiving summer sun. The history of their lives within the condominium, moreover, composes a home-the sum total of their physical, emotional and spiritual experience as a married couple, filled with dreams of a hopeful future for their disabled son-a future brighter than their own present.
Thus, when the national bank with which Dan and Sheila held a mortgage–at an interest rate of 12%–sought to foreclose on their house–their home–because Dan had missed a few payments, the sense of a better tomorrow morphed into a sense of a catastrophic today.
Dan is deaf; Sheila can hear. Dan is confined to a wheelchair. He receives social security disability, but manages to work part-time. Dan’s and Sheila’s son was born with a congenital defect; he has had multiple, difficult surgeries and he is just past twenty years old. Despite physical challenges, their son has enrolled in a four-year college.
No legal service organization was willing to take Dan’s and Sheila’s case. This is because there was no conventional legal response to the bank’s foreclosure action. The couple owed the money; the bank was unwilling to refinance, even though the property was not “underwater” and there would be equity in the property, even after refinancing to repay arrears. Refinancing in the amount of approximately $15,000.00 would have satisfied the arrears, still safeguarded a hefty, equitable value in the home for the bank, and at the new mortgage’s interest rate the monthly debt service could be cut in half.
The New York Center for Law and Justice took the case. We strive to accept every client who walks into the center if we feel that the sense of equity demands justice. We are a legal services organization of last resort. In the case of Dan and Sheila, we contacted the bank over and over and over again and the bank finally agreed to a trial period–reduced payments and a lower interest rate. Foreclosure has been postponed-hopefully forever.
This is not a case that involves extraordinary legal jurisprudence. It is not a case for the legal history books or the subject of a law review article. What is extraordinary about this case is the ordinary: we were unable to place this matter with a legal services organization that was skilled in foreclosure actions or with a private pro bono law firm; rather, the case was like a sad, abandoned pup that could not find a new home, instead waiting nervously in the corner of an emotionally tight cage at the pound for many, many months.
We learn from Dan and Sheila that when your home is at stake, anything is possible. It is right there–at home–where we begin to believe that the world follows an arc from worse to better; from despair to hope–just like the place in Bayside, Queens where Dan and Sheila and their son live today.