How we took my home back
On September 20, 2013, longtime San Francisco resident Alcides Perla, alongside dozens of supporters, took back the home he was evicted from by notorious speculator and property-flipper DMG Asset Management Company.
Perla is one of many people of color in San Francisco who has faced permanent displacement as a result of profit-grabbing investors looking to score big on the recent tech boom fueled by Silicon Valley. He had been in the process of modifying his loan with Bank of America when his home was sold at auction to DMG for a fraction of its value. This is a practice called dual-tracking, which is now illegal under California's Homeowner Bill of Rights. Since learning about his pending eviction, Perla has teamed up with the San Francisco chapter of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) in a campaign to pressure DMG to sell his home back to Bank of America.
DMG has a record of home wrecking and illegality. In 2012, DMG forced ACCE member Larry Faulks out of the home he had lived in for 50 years by means of the same tactics used against Alcides. What's more, DMG agent Gilbert Chung pled guilty to rigging home prices at foreclosure auctions to control the purchasing of underwater homes and facilitate profitable home flipping amongst speculators. Despite the conviction, Chung has been allowed to continue purchasing homes and evicting struggling homeowners.
After being evicted by DMG in August, Perla made the bold decision to continue the pressure campaign by physically re-occupying his home.and sat down to talk with Perla--inside his re-occupied home--to hear his story.
CAN YOU tell us how you ended up in the situation you are in today?
I CAME here from El Salvador in 1989, so that's about 24 years here. I was a young boy when I arrived, and I started working at the conservation corps. Then I started to go to school to learn English after work. Later, I went to City College for a few years, and then I started working in construction, learning carpentry, plumbing, and concrete and foundation work.
I've lived in this house for 14 years. I had a big dream. I had saved some money for a down payment, and since I work in construction, I planned to do most of the work on the house myself. After I got divorced, I slowed down a little bit. During the last few years, as the economy limped along, I haven't done any repairs on the house.
After I bought the house in 1999, I made all the payments. I divorced in 2006, but I kept making the payments by myself and with the rent I was getting. The economy really went down in 2009 for a lot of people and for me. That's when I started to miss some payments on the mortgage.
It was difficult, so in 2012, I sent a loan modification application to Bank of America, and they reviewed the documents. They sent me three letters stating that they were going to work on my case.
Then in July 2012, I received a document stating the house had been sold to DMG, which was really sad for me. Three days later, I got another letter from the bank saying that they were still reviewing the loan modification. I tried to call the bank, but they never answered the phone. Two weeks later, I got another letter from DMG's lawyer saying that we had 30 days to quit and vacate the house.
So I answered back with the first lawyer that I had hired. He said that we were going to sue the bank, sue DMG, sue the trustees' office and recontract. In October 2012, we sent a package to the court and to their lawyer that we're suing them for fraud and other illegal stuff that they did.
The document said that they had 30 days to answer. Just three days before the 30 days expired, someone call me from Los Angeles. He said that he was a representative for Bank of America. "Are you Alcides Perla?" he asked. "Yes," I said.
"Do we need to answer to the lawsuit that you have?" he asked. "Well yes, that is what we are asking for," I replied. "How much money you want?" he asked. I said, "I'm working right now, I can't think about it right now," because it was about 2:00 in the afternoon. "You can talk to my lawyer, you've got the information for how to contact my lawyer."
A few days later, he called me back, and I didn't answer the phone. Maybe he was going to offer me money, but I don't know. But at the beginning of December, my lawyer disappeared. I couldn't get ahold of him anymore. Even the woman who did the modification document for me couldn't get ahold of him, and she knew him well. She worked for him for about six years.
She thinks they might have paid him off--given him money to not work on the case. Because without even asking me how much money I wanted to sue for, the lawyer just put down that he was suing each corporation for $1.8 million, and then all of a sudden, he disappeared.
That's why a lot of lawyers don't want to work on this case. They think they can't win against banks, and they know that we are kind of broke, too, a lot of times.
SO WHAT happened?
THEY PURCHASED the home on July 10, 2012. At the end of July 2013, we received an eviction notice, and we were forced out on August 2. That was really sad. I had my son here with me, and it was very sad to leave with him and be evicted by the sheriff.
I went driving around to a couple places looking for a shelter. They were all crowded, and they said you can come tomorrow at 5 in the morning, but we can't promise you anything. But I had told my brother about it already, and we stayed with him.
WHAT HAS it been like for you and your son since the eviction?
VERY SAD, very emotional. I feel anguish. I've never been in this situation before. It's not easy. If you have a lot of tough personal situations going on, and then you get something like this, it gets you more overwhelmed.
BUT YOU decided to re-occupy your house, and now we're sitting here in your home. Can you talk about that?
I FEEL a little happy and a little relieved. But I'm also a little nervous. I hope we can get through it.
CAN YOU describe how you went from foreclosure to eviction to deciding to re-occupy your house?
GRACE [MARTINEZ] and the whole ACCE office are helping a lot, and it motivated me to do this. At first, I wasn't sure because it's doing something a little bit against the law. It's not easy to make such a decision, but they really motivated me to do it.
I learned about ACCE when I went to the eviction defense collaborative at the beginning of the year. They gave me Grace's info, and that's when I contacted her. I went to a few meetings, and I thought that it was a good place for me because there were quite a few people going through the same thing and having the same experiences. I've learned quite a lot, especially because another member [Larry Faulks] also lost his house to the same company.
WHEN ACCE takes on a foreclosure case like yours, they bring together community volunteers and activists to work alongside you. What do you think about this strategy for fighting foreclosures?
I THINK that it's good for us because they are able to spend more time listening to our situation than a lawyer can. A lawyer just has five or 10 minutes to talk to you, and that's it. The people at ACCE really try to understand what we are going through.
YOU MENTIONED that you were hesitant to re-occupy your home because it is technically illegal. But as we've learned through ACCE, DMG is known for breaking the law. And now, with the California Homeowner Bill of Rights, "dual tracking" or selling a home at auction while simultaneously negotiating a loan modification is considered illegal. Yet this is what happened in your case. Considering these facts, who do you feel is doing the bigger wrong here?
DMG, I think, is in the biggest error. DMG agent Gilbert Chung was found guilty in federal court for auction rigging and mail fraud. So those are federal crimes, and they don't want to admit those crimes to us.
NOW THAT you are here occupying your home, what are your demands?
MY DEMANDS are that DMG sell my home back to the bank, and that Bank of America give me a loan modification I will be able to afford. My lawyer told me in the middle of May that they had agreed to rescind the sale of the house, and then when he went to court, they changed their mind, maybe because the judge was in their favor.
So they agreed at first to rescind the sale of the house, but then they changed their mind--so I don't know why they can't change their mind again.
IF YOU met someone who owned a home and was starting to fall behind on mortgage payments, would you have any advice for them?
I WOULD advise them to go to a place like ACCE or Mission Economic Development Agency to get some advice about getting a loan modification--and to fight for their rights.