fter being evicted from their foreclosed Liberty City home, Mary Trody, her mother and their extended family lived out of a delivery truck and a van.
View the multimedia presentation on Mary Trody and her struggle to survive as nomads
They used the bathrooms at fast-food restaurants, showered at a friend’s house and braced themselves for an extended period of homelessness.
But after being uprooted for three days, they had a homecoming of sorts. Two grassroots groups, the Miami Worker Center and Take Back The Land, helped the family return to their foreclosed home — as squatters.
Trody, a low-income housing activist with the Miami Worker Center, agreed in part to move back into her old house in late February to send a message to the mortgage industry.
“They need to know we are hurting … we need help,” said Trody, 42, who helps support the family with about $100 a week she earns as a part-time stock clerk at Winn-Dixie.
The family also receives about $1,100 worth of food stamps a month, said Trody, whose husband is looking for work after losing his newspaper delivery job more than a year ago.
Trody said she agreed to become a squatter because she feared her family — including her mother, husband, two daughters, a son-in-law and four grandchildren — would be scattered among several homeless shelters.
“I prayed to God,” she said as she stood in the mostly unfurnished living room of her former home. “I was so scared. I didn’t know what to do.”
As South Florida endures a wave of residential foreclosures, thousands of families are being displaced. Some end up on the streets or in shelters.
Max Rameau, founder of Take Back The Land, says he has helped eight homeless families move into vacant foreclosed or government-owned houses since October 2007. This is the first time he’s helped a family move into the same home it lost to foreclosure.
Rameau said the home was unlocked and was not forcibly entered.
“We think it is morally unacceptable to have vacant homes throughout our community while there are people living on the street,” he said.
Real estate broker Rick Suarez, who manages foreclosed homes owned by Fannie Mae, said Take Back The Land’s has good intentions, but breaking into bank-owned homes is wrong.
“It is definitely trespassing,” said Suarez, president of Castle Realty in Miami. “It is utterly incorrect and what they are doing is totally illegal. I know they are trying to help people but …. It is sad, really sad.”
Trody’s mother, Carolyn Conley, owned the home on Northwest 137th Street and Eighth Avenue for almost two decades. In January 2005, Conley refinanced the house with a $119,000 loan, according to Miami-Dade County public records. She used the proceeds to pay off two mortgages and to pay bills, Trody said.
“My mom didn’t know what she was signing,” Trody said. Her mother was not available for comment.
The mortgage payment, which totaled about $1,000 a month, became too expensive for Conley. In May 2006, she stopped making payments. They didn’t make a house payment for about three years before being evicted.
American Home Mortgage Servicing began foreclosure in March 2007. The Irving, Texas company is the loan servicer for U.S. Bank, the trustee for investors who own pooled loans including the Conley mortgage.
By last November, Conley owed $151,000 on the mortgage, which the family couldn’t pay. Soon, the lender was awarded ownership of the home and on Jan. 5, Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Michael Genden authorized the family’s eviction.
As spokeswoman for American Home Mortgage said the company offered the family an undisclosed amount of money to pay for their relocation.
“We will again offer this relocation assistance,” said Christine Sullivan in an e-mail response to questions.
Jennifer Wendt, a U.S. Bank spokeswoman, said the trustee isn’t involved in the foreclosure process.
“The servicer of the loan is who would be responsible for managing the foreclosure process, and in most cases, they would also handle the selling of a home after it’s in foreclosure,” she said.
Trody worries each day the police will come to kick the family out. That’s why they haven’t furnished the place. They sleep on the floor and heat food in a microwave that sits on the floor.
Rameau said he’s careful to explain to families the risk of becoming squatters.
“At some point, the bank is going to come around,” he said. “The laws on trespassing and squatting right now aren’t keeping up with reality.”
Families he works with often live as squatters from three to eight months, until they save enough money to rent a place or are evicted, Rameau said.
Squatters face charges of trespassing, burglary, loitering and prowling, said detective Rebeca Perez, a spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade Police Department.
Police officials wouldn’t comment on how the department handles homeless people living in a foreclosed house, but Perez said “each situation is unique and the circumstances, offense committed, would determine what charges, if any, would be filed.”
So far, no squatters Rameau has worked with have been arrested, he said.
Trody says the foreclosure and eviction have been stressful on the entire family, especially her children and grandchildren.
“I hate it,” said Annie Thomas, Trody’s 14-year-old daughter.
“I try not to think about it. I use the time to build stuff,” she added as she sat on a backyard tree swing she built from a plastic milk crate.” [Cont.]
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Paola Iuspa-Abbott can be reached at (305) 347-6657.
Mary Trody photo by Paola Iuspa-Abbott