WillieAnn Lytle of Capitol Heights smiles as she talks about her fight to retain her home. She celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday worry-free for the first time since her home went into foreclosure in 2009. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
WillieAnn Lytle of Capitol Heights smiles as she talks about her fight to retain her home. She celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday worry-free for the first time since her home went into foreclosure in 2009. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

WillieAnn Lytle loves to teach special needs children, collect African artifacts and travel.

Lytle didn’t do many of those activities after she “got ripped off” by an attorney who convinced her to apply for a loan modification in 2009 to decrease her mortgage payments. More than 90 days later she received a letter, her home went into foreclosure.

Her previous mortgage company, GMAC Mortgage, didn’t inform her it sold her loan to Ocwen Financial Corp. of West Palm Beach, Florida, after GMAC went out of business in December 2013.

In a last-ditch effort to save the family homestead, she filed for bankruptcy.

“I panicked,” said Lytle, 70, whose parents raised her in the Capitol Heights ranch-style house her parents purchased about 1948. “I always paid on time because [mortgage company] would take the money at my account. I’m not leaving when I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Lytle, a retired teacher’s aide in the Prince George’s school system, is one of thousands of county residents who have faced or continue to combat foreclosure.

According to www.realtytrac.com, an online real estate resource company that tracks nationwide housing trends, the county ranked second behind Baltimore in the state of Maryland last month with a foreclosure rate of one of every 695 units. Maryland ranked third in the nation, according to RealtyTrac.

Within the county, Capitol Heights with the fourth-highest foreclosure rate.

Lytle, who doesn’t have children and never married, didn’t realize how many people experienced similar situations until a former co-worker invited her to attend informal group sessions.

During the bankruptcy proceedings, she heard about a nonprofit organization called Boston Community Capital. After she already paid six firms $25,000 in legal and other fees, she trusted BCC, her seventh company, and paid it $5,000 — equating roughly to a down payment for a new mortgage.

“That was well worth the investment to Boston Community Capital,” Lytle said.

Sun Initiative

Boston Community Capital established in 1985 to help low-income families with housing and jobs in Massachusetts. The group expanded its reach to six other states including Rhode Island, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

One of its primary programs deals with foreclosure prevention known as the Stabilizing Urban Neighborhoods (SUN) initiative which helped about 900 families who faced foreclosure. In addition, since its inception in 2009 has reduced mortgage payments and principal balances by an average of 35 percent.

The company acquires the properties and resells the homes to existing occupants with mortgages at a 30-year, fixed-rate homeowners can afford.

Through financial education, reviewing two-feet high worth of documents and “lots of prayer,” Lytle said BCC purchased her mortgage from Ocwen in March. Her previous monthly mortgage payments decreased from nearly $1,700 to the current amount of almost $1,300.

Elyse Cherry, CEO of the Boston Community, said 85 of 127 families the company serviced in Maryland are African-American or Afro-Caribbean.

About one-third resided in Prince George’s, a jurisdiction Cherry said became one of the most affected in the nation during the financial meltdown and one reason why the company sought to help residents in Maryland.

Cherry said the company secured about $27 million in mortgages in the state, with about $12 million for Prince George’s residents.

“One of the challenges of the foreclosure crisis [is that] it has hit communities of color,” she said. “We are not in the business of keeping people poor.”

She said the housing industry remains complex and some banks and financial institutions take advantage of homeowners.

“We made all these loans to folks with no advocates and no financial knowledge when they have expertise in something else,” she said. “It is easier to take advantage of folks when you are holding are the knowledge cards.”

To ensure property owners aren’t cheated, Cherry insists they research laws in a particular state, consult with a financial adviser and assess personal financial situation.

“Don’t engage in denial,” she said.

Share the Wealth

Cherry said Maryland state officials welcomed her group to assist residents in need of help.

Although the state still faces a problem with foreclosures, the Department of Housing and Community Development highlights notices of default decreased by 12 percent from last year.

The department will host a Dec. 16 foreclosure workshop from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Woodlawn Middle School in Baltimore. Attendees will receive information on how to prevent foreclosures, talk with housing counselors and attorneys and bring loan applications, lender statements and other paperwork.

The state also lists advice for housing counselors and those who rent which includes a 90-day notice to move after the landlord receives a foreclosure notice.

RealtyTrac listed how foreclosure filings in Prince George’s decreased by 42 percent from October to the same time last year, which also shows how the housing market also improved.

“When you compare housing prices [with] some of our neighbors, you will find a good buy in Prince George’s County,” said Eric Brown, director of the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development.

The county continues its yearlong comprehensive project with its consultant, Enterprise Community Partners of Northeast, to assess housing stock based on current and future needs.

Brown said more specific data should be ready sometime in January and target date to complete project by October.

Residents such as Karen Strayhorn of Forestville experienced housing challenges to keep her townhouse, but received a loan modification from Wells Fargo.

Strayhorn, one of the few people Lytle confided in about her situation, said “she is a lot happier now and taking much better care of herself.”

Lytle, who gained weight through the stress of her foreclosure case, offered her own piece of advice

“Pray, pray, pray,” she said. “Don’t ever give up.”

For more information on foreclosure prevention and the state’s hotline, go to http://dhcd.maryland.gov/Residents/Pages/HOPE/MDHope.aspx.

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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