Editor's note: First Person is a series of commentaries that gives voice to those not commonly heard in Atlanta media.
Arvella Hadley, 72, has lived in her East Atlanta home since 1985. She's worked sporadically as a custodian and a nursing assistant over the years, and multiple times has found herself at risk of losing her longtime residence to foreclosure. Thanks to help from Atlanta Legal Aid, which provides legal representation to underserved groups, Hadley's mortgage was modified. She now can reasonably make payments commensurate with her social security income — getting the "helping hand, not a handout" that she wanted.
— As told to Max Blau
For years, I've been struggling with this house.
I'm upside down. I owe $194,000 on the house. The house is not worth but $50,000 or $60,000.
When I found this house. It was pretty run down. I didn't have money to put down. The owner said he would fix the house up and he'd rent it for a year, with the rental money going as a down payment. It was just $454 per month.
We moved in the house in 1985. He sold it to us for $45,000. That's where I've been ever since.
It was just my husband, my granddaughter, and myself. I had to raise one of my son's daughters to keep the state from taking her away. She grew up in this house. We've been here 27 years.
My husband and I divorced in 1994. I was left with a house six months behind on a mortgage — which was about $5,000 dollars. I didn't have a full-time job. I filed Chapter 13, which stopped the foreclosure. At that time, one of my clients helped me get some more customers, and then hired me full time. I kept the house going every month for 400-something dollars.
Then my mother got sick and I had to take her in. We sold her house and I was able to pay off Chapter 13. I went back to school and I learned to be a Certified Nursing Assistant. I started working at night and cleaned. I did that work for about 10 years. In 2000, I was able to refinance the house. The house was run down, we didn't have money to fix it up. That took my house from $400-something per month to $800. I was working two jobs and I could afford to pay it.
When the [economic] crisis came, my customers lost their jobs, so I lost mine. I called the mortgage company to tell them my business had dropped off and I couldn't pay.
Prior to that, I got behind and they refinanced me, but they locked me into an interest-only plan for about four to six years. I couldn't pay nothing on the principal. So the house note kept being $194,000. They said that's the only way they could do it. The note became $1,100 a month. I couldn't afford to pay that.
This mortgage company, Litton Loan, just kind of messed me around for two years. They kept having me fill out all this paperwork, but they never gave me the modification. When they did, it was still $1,000. It didn't help me. I went to Bank of America, but they couldn't do it because of my credit. I had been behind for so long, nobody would help me because of my credit. A gentleman at the bank gave me a telephone number for senior citizens. It was a hotline for Atlanta Legal Aid.
During the time I was talking to Atlanta Legal Aid, Litton Loan sold my mortgage to Ocwen. They were much nicer than Litton Loan. They worked with Atlanta Legal Aid and they worked with me. That was a relief, because I was so stressed out. I couldn't sleep at night.
I asked God to help me get out of debt. Little did I know that my mortgage would be cut down to a $49,000 balance. It's been a relief. I've been able to pay my bills. I'm not behind. I don't have to worry about if they're going to take the house.
It's a blessing to be able to pay on time. I had been struggling for so many years. I think of all the people that I've helped, and now someone's helping me.
I know other people who lost their home. I've been blessed to keep mine, so I'm just grateful and I'm thankful.