CHANGER, which stands for Communities, Homeowners and Neighbors Gaining Economic Rights, organized the protest and said in a statement that Washington Mutual's and H&R Block's mortgage-lending unit Option One are connected to many subprime loans in southeast Queens. CHANGER executive director Lionel Ouellette said he has been trying unsuccessfully to contact executives at both banks to renegotiate loans.Washington Mutual spokeswoman Olivia Riley denied that the California-based bank is closing any of its 34 loan or retail stores in Queens, and said the bank cannot give a tally of subprime loans linked to the bank by neighborhood."We don't break out subprime lending by market," Riley said and added that the bank's policies have changed. "We've tightened our credit standing and we no longer do subprime lending."Ouelette said the banks have so far refused to work with the community. "The banks have a stronghold on housing in some communities," he said. "Instead of people having access to fair mortgage products, they have to go through subprime loans."But Option One spokeswoman Christine Sullivan said her firm and H&R Block were willing to discuss the situation, and Riley said the same of Washington Mutual."I know for a fact that both Option One and H&R Block did return calls to the community advocate, and we do have contact info for borrowers on our Web site," Sullivan said. She added that the lender would be willing to look into individual cases if the borrowers contact Option One.Riley said buyers in trouble should contact their lender, often the last call they want to make. "Customers who are current on their existing loan but facing a payment reset, or who are delinquent on their loan and in need of immediate assistance, are encouraged to contact us," Washington Mutual's Riley said.But one Washington Mutual customer, Deborah Seabrook, 59, is having trouble getting her house back. She has lived on 116th Avenue in St. Albans since 1952, in a house her mother, Lucretia Spence, owned in full as of 1982. Or rather, she used to live there - until June 2006, when a city marshal changed the locks and told her the mortgage was in foreclosure.Seabrook said Spence's identity was stolen in the 1990s and used to make her a straw buyer, sending ownership of the house through multiple hands and lending institutions, including Washington Mutual and Long Beach Mortgage Company, one of its subsidiaries."Washington Mutual denies having anything to do with it even though they're listed as the foreclosing bank," she said. Documents from October 2005 on the Department of Finance Web site back this up, though it lists an incorrect address for Spence."We're trying to get out that banks are accepting fraudulent information," Seabrook said. "Washington Mutual gave us a letter [from May 2005] stating that we owed nothing."Ouellette urged local buyers in danger of foreclosure to contact CHANGER and the Better Business Bureau with their mortgage broker's information, which CHANGER plans to use to create a searchable database they can then send to the state attorney general, he said.Reach reporter Alex Christodoulides by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.
©2008 Community News Group
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