DOWNEY — Beatrice Criswell's living room has been cluttered with unopened boxes of Christmas decorations since early November, but until this week Criswell said she was not sure whether she would be in her home for the holidays.
In September, Criswell received notice that she was being evicted from her home of 38 years on which she owed more than $124,000. Her plight was publicized in local newspapers and on television in hopes that someone would come to her rescue.
To Criswell's disappointment, only two offers were made on the home and one fell through.
But in November, the second offer was accepted, and last week the buyer--whom Criswell calls her "White Knight"--signed a lease that allows the 77-year-old woman to live in the home for the rest of her life for $200 a month.
"This is a Merry Christmas and this is Santa Claus," Criswell said as she hugged her benefactor, Russell Cogar, a Bell real estate broker.
Made Offer Sight Unseen
After learning of Criswell's predicament from a friend, Cogar contacted Criswell's attorney and made an offer of $135,000 on the house--sight unseen.
Criswell is legally blind and lives with her 85-year-old disabled sister.
"As soon as I found out (someone made an offer) I started getting the boxes out, but I was too scared to start decorating yet," Criswell said in her neat two-bedroom house on Brock Avenue. "Now it looks like I'm going to spend another Christmas here."
Although his payments will be more than $1,200 a month, Cogar, who owns Western Realty, said he does not see himself as a Good Samaritan.
"I was just doing what was right," the Huntington Park resident said. "I did it because I just couldn't see a little old lady being kicked out of her home."
Few Donations Received
Criswell says she is grateful to Cogar, but added that she is disheartened that more people had not offered assistance. A few small donations were made, but Criswell says she expected a bigger response.
"I have never asked for help in my life," she said, shaking her head. "We thought going on TV would help but it seems to me that the people who are truly deserving never get help."
Cogar said he hopes the publicity of Criswell's predicament will result in the passage of legislation that would prevent others on fixed incomes from falling into the same debt trap.
Twelve years ago Criswell borrowed $5,844 to pay off property taxes and then took out loan after loan against her home, each time borrowing to meet the balloon payment due on the previous loan. Eventually, she owed about $124,000 but used only about $9,000 of the money she borrowed, said Criswell's attorney Katherine Grant.
In August, 1986, Dr. Seymour Alban, a Long Beach orthopedic surgeon, acquired the house in a foreclosure sale and initiated eviction proceedings. Alban delayed those proceedings as Criswell tried to come up with rent to stay in the house and again when Cogar made his offer.
Although nothing illegal was done, Grant and Cogar wonder why Criswell was allowed to take out loans with balloon payments that she could never meet with her $612 a month from Social Security.
"These mortgage brokers should be strung up," Cogar said. "Why do they offer people loans when they know the person can't pay them?"
Criswell said she would like to forget the past and start over with a big Christmas party at her home.
"No one is touching those ornaments though," Criswell said. "Decorating the tree is one pleasure I want all to myself this year."