© Jonathan Alcorn / Reuters / REUTERS
Ana Casas Wilson, who has cerebral palsy, sits in the living room of her South Gate, Calif. in December 2011. Wells Fargo has completed foreclosure on the home and eviction could be imminent, but Wilson refuses to leave, and argues that the foreclosure was unecessary.
A woman engaged in a bitter battle with Wells Fargo over foreclosure of her southern California home was arrested late Thursday at the tony residence of the bank's CFO in San Marino, where she and dozens of supporters were protesting.
Ana Casas Wilson, 49, who lives in the working-class neighborhood of South Gate, faces eviction from her childhood home. Like many people who have been through foreclosure, she says that the bank wrongly denied her a loan modification and moved to foreclose even when she was able to catch up.
In an action that is becoming increasingly common, Wilson has taken her complaint public and her protest directly to bank officials. In Thursday’s protest, with at least 80 supporters, she attempted to deliver her mortgage payment directly to Tim Sloan, the top financial officer for Wells Fargo. In addition to protesting the foreclosure, the group was challenging an ordinance created last year making it harder to picket in this wealthy enclave.
"People are deciding to take this stand that was previously a little unthinkable," said Peter Kuhns, with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, which helped organize this and other "home defense" actions. "They are risking arrest, refusing to leave, getting their families involved and putting themselves out there."
Many people are shedding the sense of shame of foreclosure, which kept most people silent in the past, even if they didn’t think they had done anything wrong, he said.
"More and more people are standing up and willing to go public because there is no other remedy and putting public pressure on the bank," said Kuhns.
Wells Fargo did not respond directly to Wilson's situation, but provided a statement in response to queries about her.
"Wells Fargo works very hard to keep customers in their homes whenever possible," said the statement, sent by Jennifer Langan in corporate communications. "We review our customers for a variety of modification options, from HAMP, HARP, HAFA and through our own proprietary programs. Despite these efforts, if a customer is 16 or more months delinquent, it can be extremely difficult to recover."
Some homeowners who have taken this high-profile approach in their fight against foreclosure, enlisting the support of protesters from the Occupy movement and housing activists, are finding success at it.
The case of Rose Gudiel, reported by msnbc.com last year, is one example. In October, Gudiel was hunkered down in her home, surrounded by supporters, awaiting eviction. But at the eleventh hour, lender Fanny Mae canceled the eviction notice and offered her a loan modification, enabling her to keep the home.
Peter Kuhns, ACCE
Ana Casas Wilson, sitting, and supporter Rose Gudiel demonstrating in front of the home of Wells Fargo CFO Tim Sloand on Thursday.
Many similar foreclosure battles are under way nationwide, with support from a movement called Occupy our Homes.
Wilson, who has cerebral palsy, lives with her husband, who works as a school janitor, her teen son and her mother, who helps care for her. She has worked as a court reporter, and as an advocate for the disabled.
The trouble covering the mortgage started when she was treated for breast cancer in 2009, and her husband’s income declined as a result of cutting hours to help take care of her. They got behind, but their income stabilized several months later. By then, the bank had moved into foreclosure proceedings and would not accept her payments or discuss ways to catch up, Kuhns said.
The implication in Wells Fargo's statement that Wilson was 16 months behind is misleading, says Kuhns, because for most of that time, the bank refused to take her payments.
Thursday’s protest was on Wilson’s behalf, and it was more generally challenging a San Marino ordinance adopted last November – just a few weeks after a protest of predatory lending practices on Sloan’s front lawn. That demonstration, involving about 100 protesters, was peaceful and ended without incident, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Under the statute, picketers must keep 150 feet from a target residence, or 75 feet from the curb adjacent to the home, whichever is farther.
"The purpose of the ordinance is not to reduce picketing, but to protect the people who are the victims of picketing," police Chief John Schaefer told the Times when it was passed. "We're a prime target. We have a lot of people who fit the profile to be the victim of this type of crime."
Video from the protest posted by the San Gabriel Valley Tribune shows protesters carrying signs and chanting "Wells Fargo, shame on you!" in the street in front of the home.
Wilson is shown crossing a police cordon in her wheelchair to deliver a check to Sloan. She knocks several times, but gets no answer.
"He's embarrassed," Wilson tells the Tribune. "That's why he won't come out. ... He knows that what they are doing is wrong."
Wilson was arrested under the anti-picketing statute, after protesters and police faced off for about two hours. She was released about an hour later and is expected to appear in court in early June.
"The leaders of Wells Fargo and the members of their family should be afforded the right to feel safe in their private residence and we encourage all organizations choosing to demonstrate at private residences to abide by the law for the safety of the general public," the Wells Fargo statement said.
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