One of the more troubling aspects of this merger is the approach that Financial Freedom, a reverse mortgage servicer, has taken with widowed homeowners. Financial Freedom is a subsidiary of OneWest Bank.
In addition to a number of troubling stories (see below), the CEO of OneWest Bank, Joseph Otting, is also the head of the California Chamber of Commerce.
Earlier this year, the California Chamber of Commerce placed AB 244 on its notorious “jobs killer” list to scare people away from voting for it. If enacted, AB 244 would have clarified that for regular mortgages, widowed homeowners and other surviving family members are entitled to the same protections from improper foreclosures as other homeowners.
Here’s the approach that Financial Freedom has taken with widowed homeowners and other surviving family members when a deceased borrower was the only person listed on a reverse mortgage:
1. Karen Hunziker’s story: Although the couple had lived in the home for 19 years, Hunziker received a foreclosure warning letter from Financial Freedom some ten days after her husband passed away in May 2014. MainStreet: “New Reverse Mortgage Policy Leaves Widows and Widowers Homeless”
2. Michelle Ayers and her sister Mary Dambacher’s story: “I’ve been preapproved for a mortgage and had all the paperwork taken care of to repurchase the home, and basically Financial Freedom and One West Bank has refused me the right to purchase my home,” Mary said. Fox 4: NFM sisters chained to home to protest reverse mortgage
3. Millie Rinard’s story: “Because of OWB’s refusal to refund any of the fraudulent funds, Mrs. Rinard was forced to live the last years of her life on Medi-Cal in a nursing home funded by taxpayer dollars.”
4. Julie Cheney’s story: “I was a Successor Trustee of my parents Trust when they were sold a Financial Freedom reverse mortgage they didn’t need, while my dad was in the last month of his life, with terminal cancer, on narcotic pain medication, and my mother had Alzheimer’s disease and could not complete a sentence.”
5. Rachel Mehlsak’s (attorney at Bet Tzedek) testimony:”Another client I worked with had lived in her home for over 40 years. She is elderly, disabled, and supports her daughter and four minor grandchildren on just her monthly Social Security income. After her husband died, she had trouble maintaining her property tax payments, and OneWest, the parent company of her reverse mortgage lender, Financial Freedom, threatened to foreclose.