The Star-Ledger

Fearing The Approach Of The Sheriff's Officer

The Star-Ledger — Wednesday, December 30, 2009

By Barry Carter

Monica Parchment could only think of one thing when sheriff's officers boarded up a house on her street a few months ago.

"I'm next," she said. "Tears came to my eyes."

She saw the officers put the furniture out on Linden Place in Orange. Then watched it get soaked a few days later when rain fell. Parchment, 52, has been trying for a year to keep this from happening to her. She is behind $19,000 on her mortgage and trying with no success to negotiate mortgage relief with Bank of America, which assumed her mortgage when it merged with Countrywide Home Loans.

In a short period of time, Parchment, a nurse who at one time held three jobs at once, has fallen into desperation.

Life came at her hard.

She was diagnosed with coronary disease in 2003. Her father died in 2004. Her sick mother passed four years later after a long illness. Parchment said she cared for her mother and worked as a full-time registered nurse while holding two part-time gigs as nursing supervisor and instructor of nurses aides. But she was stretched so thin, she couldn't work the hours demanded, so she lost her two part-time jobs.

Parchment said she tried to make partial mortgage payments, but the bank kept rejecting them. She went to Essex-Newark Legal Services and New Jersey Citizen Action for help. The consumer watchdog group came up with a proposal, but Abbie Gorin, an attorney with Legal Services, said the bank rejected the terms. Gorin said a mediation session with the bank seemed to favor Parchment getting her loan modified. All she needed to do was submit additional financial information.

But for some inexplicable reason, Gorin said, the bank took the position that Parchment's financial information wasn't sufficient to warrant a loan modification. And since she was behind more than 12 months on the FHA loan, Gorin said, the bank told him that it is not obligated to modify the loan under federal loan guidelines. Gorin, however, said he proposed that Parchment buy back some of those months, because she had a lump sum of $6,000 to pay down the debt. He said the bank declined that offer.

Thomas Brodowski, the attorney representing Bank of America for Phelan, Hallinan & Schmieg in Mt. Laurel, said he could not talk about the case.

"I am unable to discuss any details regarding our files with you," Brodowski wrote in an e-mail. "For your record, this is an official no comment."

Parchment said she has always worked since she came to New Jersey from Jamaica in 1986. She was a banker there, changed careers here. She started out as a nurse aid, working her way to become a licensed practical nurse, and then a registered nurse. And she has found another part-time job.

"This woman is a perfect candidate to be able to keep her home," Salowe-Kaye said. "Her finances have improved. It's my feeling that this should be the kind of case that the servicer should be jumping over backward trying to figure out a way to make this work."

But they're not. And because they're not, Salowe-Kaye said, Parchment has to start the mediation process all over again. The next available opening is not until February. In the meantime, she said, late fees are accumulating every day, fees that Parchment is responsible to pay.

"This doesn't make sense,'' Gorin said. "If they take it to foreclosure, they're going to get less and they force Monica out of the house.''

Parchment tried one more time recently on her own by attending a conference at the Jacob Javits Center in New York, which offered free counseling for homeowners seeking mortgage relief.

She arrived at 10 a.m. The crowd, easily a thousand people, she said, moved like cattle herded into sections around the convention center, stopping at different stations until they were assigned to a bank representative. When she finally got to speak to an official from Bank of America, Parchment said, the woman told her that she needed to submit her financial information to the bank for review.

Stunned, Parchment got up and left. It was 9:40 p.m. She had waited over 11 hours to be told what she had already heard.

She looked around. If there were thousands like her here, she thought, how many are there throughout the country?

"I'm back to square one,'' she said. "Unless something drastic happens, it looks like I will be next."

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