On a hot July morning with Lead Belly singing soulfully in the background, lifelong Newark resident Hattie Kreps answered one question: What would you say to PNC Bank about all you’ve been through with your home?
“I’d probably write ‘em a book. We moved into the house in 1950. My father was a faithful, faithful, faithful borrower all his life.” When Joe Kreps became sick with colon cancer 7 years ago, his only daughter Hattie had just been laid off from her job as a bus driver at Alamo Rental Car in Newark. She was then 62 years old and had planned to work a few more years to maximize social security – her only source of retirement income – but instead cared for her father through his illness.
Ms. Kreps took over the mortgage payments on the family home. The year following her father’s death, Ms. Kreps became sick herself and let go of any thought of going back to work. Knowing house payments would be a struggle, she made calls to the lender for 6 weeks, morning, noon, and night to discuss lower payments but never got a returned call. Despite help from her family, Ms. Kreps fell behind on her bills. “PNC has never worked with me. Never, ever.”
What follows next is a series of 3 foreclosure proceedings, 2 court hearings, 2 sheriff sales, bloated attorney fees, and backroom deals. Finally, in August 2011 PNC returned a mortgage payment to Ms. Kreps with a letter stating this payment would not keep her out of foreclosure. She had received letters like this previously (though not with a returned check), but had never been notified she was in fact in foreclosure. She contacted the lender who explained the home had been in foreclosure for 3 years at that point. Ms. Kreps gave up fighting for her home. “The first 2 sheriff sales I cried and I fought, but finally I told my son, ‘I’m through crying.’” The Hillside Avenue house where Ms. Kreps raised her 3 children is now for sale; no eviction notice has yet been served.
This nearly 70-year-old great-grandmother wants her story to be told to everyone who will listen in the hope that it will help to fix this broken system. “They can bail out big corporations but can’t bail out little homeowners. We’re the ones that keep the economy going!” Ms. Kreps was 5 years old when she moved to Newark from South Carolina. She reminisced about summers on the farm back home where she and her grandmother would go for early morning walks through their garden. Gathering up the hems of their dresses, they would collect okra, collard greens, tomatoes, and peas for freezing and canning so the family could survive on barter and just a few pennies for food. “If we went back to the old days we could make it. We wouldn’t need corporations. It takes the older people, who really know how to do it. We could bring the corporations to their knees.”
Hattie Rose Kreps – a member of the New Jersey Home Defender’s League – stands with thousands of other families across the country who are demanding accountability from our elected lawmakers whose lax regulations have enabled big banks like PNC to profit off of struggling homeowners.