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Richard Castaldo fought for his life 13 years ago in Colorado when he was shot by two teens at Columbine High School. Now, he is struggling to keep his condominium in Southern California, trying to ward off foreclosure like millions of others.
Castaldo, who is confined to a wheelchair and has a bullet lodged permanently in his spine, was one of the first students shot on April 20, 1999, when he was 17.
Five years ago, he came to Los Angeles to attend a sound engineering school with the dream of pursuing a career in music. At the time, the Hollywood condo he bought seemed like a wise investment.
“I feel kind of stupid, honestly, because I should have known better,” he said. “I kind of bought into the notion that of course the condo was going to go up in value, which, of course, obviously it hasn’t.”
Castaldo’s story mirrors that of countless homeowners who were hit hard by the housing crisis and fell victim to predatory lending. He was advised to take an interest-only loan to buy an overpriced property.
In February, he fell behind on his mortgage payments. While there were plenty of solicitors who offered to help, the assistance didn’t come without a hefty price.
“I get mailings every day from somebody, but of course they all want money up front,” Castaldo, now 31, said.
Then, surfing the Internet, he found a group that knows all about eviction: Occupy Los Angeles. Ever since their encampment was evicted from City Hall, they've made it their mission to help homeowners facing foreclosure.
Occupy Fights Foreclosures says that it aims to “support, educate and empower homeowners at risk to save their homes from fraudulent foreclosure.”
“I feel like they’re really the only group that doesn't have an ulterior motive,” Castaldo said.
At one of their meetings, he met a lawyer who is now trying to help him, but he doesn't have much time. Castaldo’s condo is scheduled to be sold at a foreclosure auction in December.
“It’s nerve racking for sure,” he said. “I’m not bitter in terms of me. I’m bitter that stuff like that in Aurora keeps happening. It doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to change.”