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Family fights back over foreclosure and eviction

The Gudiels stage protests against the bank and lending agency in the loss of their home. But the story is more complex than it seems.

September 30, 2011|HECTOR TOBAR
  • Rose Gudiel, with arm raised, and her family have vowed to resist eviction. "We dont want to be victims, Gudiel said. We want people to know that the working class shouldnt be treated like this. We work hard for what we have, we deserve what we have, and we have to start fighting for it.
Rose Gudiel, with arm raised, and her family have vowed to resist eviction.… (Michael Robinson Chavez/Los…)

Rose Gudiel wept in her kitchen, as she told me a story about death and a $408,000 loan.

Her home on Proctor Street in La Puente is the only piece of real estate anyone in her family has ever owned. Now she's been foreclosed on and is about to be evicted.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, October 29, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 54 words Type of Material: Correction
Rose Gudiel: A column in the Sept. 30 Section A detailing the pending eviction of Rose Gudiel, who lost her home to foreclosure, misstated the location of the property. It is in unincorporated Bassett, not La Puente. An article in the Oct. 5 Business section about union support for L.A. protesters repeated the error.

"The heart of our family is here," Gudiel, a 34-year-old state employee, said of the home she bought in 2005, a stucco cube with three bedrooms and several plum and pomegranate trees.

Her life started to unravel about the time her 24-year-old brother was killed on the street outside: he'd helped her make the $2,456 monthly mortgage payment. But really, she was doomed the moment she bought the house. She simply paid too much.

Gudiel had dreamed of giving her family something better, she told me, but it was all for nothing.

Finally Gudiel's younger sister Jessica interrupted.

"Don't feel sad," Jessica, 30, said with an eerie, otherworldly cheerfulness. "We've already won."

She was referring to the Gudiels' protest campaign against the banks and lending agencies that helped throw so many poor families like theirs into a big debt ditch. Last month, the Gudiels showed up at Fannie Mae's offices in Pasadena, inviting the media to watch Rose demand help to stay in her home.

Now the Gudiels are inviting the media to their eviction too, for what amounts to a staged, yet essential, bit of political theater.

"We don't want to be victims," Gudiel said. "We want people to know that the working class shouldn't be treated like this. We work hard for what we have, we deserve what we have, and we have to start fighting for it."

It had been a long time since I heard people talk about their private loss with such explicit political overtones. The Gudiels said they wanted to set an example for other working people to follow. They spoke like wounded, idealistic characters from a Steinbeck novel.

"They can take the house, but they're not going to take our spirit," Jessica said. "The struggle will continue."

The Gudiels blame two lending institutions -- OneWest Bank and Fannie Mae -- for their plight.

Gudiel bought the home for her parents and two adult siblings to live with her. The elder Gudiels are Guatemalan immigrants who worked in garment factories and warehouses and eventually became U.S. citizens. They raised their children in rented homes in Pico-Union and Montebello, and sent Rose and Jessica to college and one son to the Navy.

"I watched them work so hard and thought, 'One day I'll show them the fruit of their labor,' " Gudiel said of her parents.

But she bought just as the market was topping out, paying $408,000 for a home that was clearly overvalued: Four years earlier, the previous owner had paid a mere $149,000 for it, according to property records.

Aggressive mortgage brokers were roping in working families then with offers of loans that didn't even require a down payment.

"Looking back, it was all a big scam," Gudiel told me. "They made us believe we could do this."

Things started to come apart in 2009, she said. That's when Gudiel, an employee at the state Employment Development Department -- where she works with people who have fallen on hard times -- saw her hours and pay reduced by the state budget crisis.

The furlough cost her about 20% of her salary, she said. About the same time her brother Michael was shot and killed by suspected gang members. She fell behind on the mortgage. When the late fees got too big to pay, she wrote and called OneWest.

"I was going to them and saying, 'I need your help,' " Gudiel said.

Gudiel showed me a thick stack of correspondence with OneWest.

Told that she might qualify for a loan modification, she was still being asked to submit pay stubs and other documents to the bank up until the day her home was foreclosed, she said.

As I pressed Gudiel, I discovered that her previous public statements have neglected a few important details -- among other things, she stopped making mortgage payments for at least 10 months before the foreclosure.

"I kept waiting for them to give me direction and tell me how I was going to get out of this," she said.

Still, the essential truth of the cause for which Gudiel is fighting remains: the banks that set off the financial crisis got a government bailout for their mistakes, but millions of homeowners like her did not.

A OneWest spokesman said the bank serviced the loan at the terms set by Fannie Mae and declined further comment.

A spokeswoman for Fannie Mae, the owner of Gudiel's loan, said the protest wasn't necessary -- they offered the Gudiels relocation assistance, but the family never responded.

Instead, the Gudiels went ahead with their act of civil disobedience.

On Wednesday night, the Gudiel family gathered on their front lawn with several dozen activists, union members and members of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.

They were determined to get themselves arrested when the sheriff's deputies showed up to enforce the eviction order, which was to go into effect at midnight.

They waited.

On Thursday, they watched as sheriff's deputies cruised past, but no eviction took place.

"People leave their homes and they don't do anything because they're ashamed," Gudiel said. "I don't feel shameful anymore. Because I'm fighting back."

--

hector.tobar@latimes.com

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