Veterans Shelter Wins Bank Reprieve

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Days after a judge ordered some two dozen homeless, often disabled veterans evicted from a Payson home, the bank that owns the house suspended the eviction and agreed to renegotiate the dispute.

Misti Isley DeCaire, 83, has for years been privately offering shelter to homeless and disabled veterans, without any official status or help from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Her tenants pay what they can, but so many lost their odd jobs that she fell behind on her mortgage payments, said Art Rousso, a veteran who serves as spokesman for the group.

The $310,000 in loans on the house had originally been written by US Bank and serviced by Wells Fargo Bank. The house was put up for auction in January and Wells Fargo bought it for the amount of the outstanding loan, said Tyler Smith, a supervisor in the bank’s Real Estate Owned department.

Last Tuesday, a judge ordered DeCaire and the 22 residents evicted.

Smith said the bank had offered each resident $3,000 to move out, but residents refused the offer. Only at that point, said Smith, did he realize the true situation.

He said the real estate agent who made the offer came back and said, “Did you know there’s 22 veterans living there?”

Smith said he therefore last week realized “we don’t want to turn 22 veterans out of their home — we’re going to factor all that into account. Obviously, the biggest thing is doing right by this — it’s an extreme situation and we want to make sure we’re doing the right thing.

Rousso credited the protests and media inquiries with prompting the bank’s change of heart.

“The bank called and said they would terminate the eviction proceedings and is there anything else I need,” said Rousso. “I said, ‘I’d like that in writing.’

“The community support has been fantastic,” he added.

The group had enlisted the support of Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick and former Payson mayor Bob Edwards among others and crowded the court with residents and supporters at last week’s eviction hearing.

Smith said he hadn’t heard from any political figures about the situation.

Rousso also said that the $300,000 property had been auctioned for $230,000. Tyler said he hadn’t been involved in the foreclosure auction, but said the bank had acquired the property for the $310,000 loan amount.

Veterans Helping Veterans has grown over the years as a result of DeCaire’s determination to take in any veteran. DeCaire is a 22-year veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

She began taking in veterans one at a time in 1993 and kept the improvised effort going until last year, when the recession hit. Her efforts to raise $12,000 to catch up on the mortgage fell short. Rousso said the bank rejected a final $3,000 mortgage payment on her 6,000-square-foot home, for lack of a late fee from preceding months.

However, her shelter doesn’t have any official relationship or support from the VA. Some existing veterans groups have kept their distance, due to uncertainty about the programs and financing and status of some of the residents.

Tyler could not confirm any details of the actual foreclosure, since he became involved only after Wells Fargo bought the property at auction. Banks often buy properties at auction to gain clear title, before turning it over to an internal department that specializes in selling it for whatever the bank can recover.

Now the property will go to the bank’s Loss Mitigation Department, charged with renegotiating, selling or finding federal mortgage bailout funds to get what the bank can from the property.

That might include selling it back to DeCaire for a new, lower amount based on a new appraisal, said Tyler.

The bank will explore all of the options in the next 60 days, in hopes of working out a settlement that will not result in the eviction of so many veterans, many of them disabled.

“Getting the $310,000 back is not the priority,” said Smith.

“The way we look at it here in REO, we don’t concern ourselves with that number. That number is gone.”

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