Fighting Foreclosure: Ordinary People Struggle Against Bank Repossessions

Police Investigate 100-Year-Old Womans, Agnes Albing, Surprise ForeclosureCourtesy Jim Armstrong
Agnes Albinger received a foreclosure notice on her 70-acre farm last fall, after being saddled by what family and friends say is a shocking $700,000 in loans.

Beverly Davis hopes to sell enough cornbread to buy her home out of foreclosure – that's $80,000 worth of cornbread mix in 21 days.

Davis said she paid $134,000 for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom ranch in Fairburn, Ga., in April 2006. Then her financial life, like that of millions of other Americans, began to unravel.

She lost her full-time job as an office administrator for the city of College Park. She took a short-lived part-time job. She sold greeting cards and nail polish on the side. Still, in March, she lost her home to foreclosure.

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Now she hopes to sell enough of her grandmother's special cornbread mix to buy the house back. The simple math of her task is daunting.

"Some people believe in miracles," Davis said.

Across the country banks are taking over homes at a near-record pace and more than one million homes are expected to be repossessed this year. Still, from the suburbs of Southern California to hills of rural Illinois, ordinary people are fighting back, raising cash by selling family recipes, representing themselves in court, doing whatever is necessary to keep their homes.

In July, banks repossessed the second highest monthly number of homes ever, according to the California-based foreclosure listing firm RealtyTrac, Inc. There were 92,858 properties taken over by banks in July, an increase of nine percent in the month and six percent for the year.

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A sagging job market is the likely culprit. The silver lining: Overall foreclosure activity in July did drop about 10 percent from a year ago. But it was the 17th straight month of foreclosure actions on more than 300,000 properties, according to RealtyTrac.

"I'm not focused on how much money I must raise," Davis said. "I'm a woman of great faith. You can't get depressed and all embarrassed."

Davis, who sells her cornbread mix via her website,, said she was inspired after reading a story about a New Jersey woman who sold enough $40 apple cakes last year to qualify for a loan modification. She sells the cornbread mix and a cast-iron skillet for $40. The mix alone goes for $10. She also offers cornbread cooking lessons.

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"Cornbread is my passion," she said.

Davis started her cornbread venture in June. The orders soon started picking up. She wouldn't say exactly how much she's raised so far. "I raised $3,000 last weekend alone," she said. "The sales are still coming in. I believe it can be done."

Many orders, Davis said, arrived with messages of encouragement.

"The cornbread story has given them hope and courage," she said. "People like the idea of turning lemons into lemonade. They like that I didn't give up. It touches home. Most people can relate to being unemployed and losing a home."

In Teaneck, N.J., homeowner Angela Logan sold enough of her $40 apple cakes to qualify for a loan modification that allowed her to save her home. She dubbed her venture Mortgage Apple Cakes.

Last summer, Logan, an actress and divorced mother of three, tried holding a bake sale to save her home from foreclosure. Her goal was to sell 100 homemade cakes. She was soon inundated with more than 500 orders from around the world – many generated after her struggle was chronicled in a local newspaper. She said she sold 950 cakes in the first two weeks. Managers at the Hilton Hotel in Hasbrouck Heights were moved by her story and invited her to bake in a corner of hotel's kitchen.

"People were coming from everywhere to my front door," Logan said. "They were calling to buy cakes and offer donations. We got the money to pay all three months of the trial modification."

Outside Los Angeles, in the city of Diamond Bar, a quiet unassuming 23-year-old named Zeenat Ali has spent half a year in court trying to save her family home from foreclosure.

Ali has no legal training but, without the help of a lawyer, she managed to win judgments that enabled her to seek $1.7 billion from the financial firms involved in the foreclosure. Earlier this month, she convinced a judge to suspend evictions efforts for another 45 days. She has now hired a lawyer.

"Maybe it will give some hope to other people that they can fight this horrible situation," Ali recently told The Los Angeles Times.

Her lawyer, Kenneth Zwick, told that he was not surprised at the lengths to which Americans will go to save their homes in turbulent times. "People are desperate right now," he said.

In Monee, Ill., Agnes Albinger hopes to turn 101 next Friday on the 70-acre farm that she has called home for more than half a century. Local prosecutors are investigating whether Albinger – who received a foreclosure notice last fall – was a victim of financial abuse at the hands of her niece, Bridget Gruzdis. The niece acquired the farm and accumulated an outstanding debt of $700,000 on the farm.

"The other day I went out there and found Agnes walking around in her yard, picking dandelion leaves from the ground to season a chicken she was cooking on the grill," said longtime friend Jim Armstrong. "The gas company turned off her gas a few weeks ago. She's a survivor."

In e-mails to last spring, Gruzdis denied any wrongdoing and said all loans against the property were taken with Albinger's consent. A spokesman for Will County, Ill., said local prosecutors have yet to determine whether Albinger was the victim of fraud.

Last fall, Albinger received a foreclosure notice but a bank agreed to stay the action until the investigation is completed. Armstrong started a blog,, seeking volunteers to help maintain the sprawling property and keeping supporters posted about her plight. Athorities launched their investigation after publicity about the case.

"Three quarters of the people who contacted us wanted to offer financial help but Agnes wouldn't accept it," Armstrong said. "She's a proud woman."

Armstrong added, "I've always said if they take Agnes off that land, she would just die."