About a dozen protestors carrying hand-drawn signs were locked out of the Macdonald Avenue Wells Fargo bank branch in Richmond on Wednesday. The demonstrators went to the bank to show support for Genny Zentella, a San Pablo resident who is facing foreclosure.
The bank manager agreed to briefly discuss Zentella’s mortgage with her, but a security guard called the police and asked the other protestors to leave. Bank workers locked the doors as protestors picketed outside.
After about 15 minutes, Zentella emerged from the bank and joined the other protestors. She said the bank manager sent a fax with her appeal to Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf’s office, and he gave her a phone number to call. “He didn’t even sit down to talk to me,” she said.
Wednesday’s protest is part of a broader effort to put pressure on banks to help financially troubled borrowers stay in their homes. The demonstration was organized by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, a nonprofit organization that has been mobilizing troubled homeowners across the state. The group is a vocal supporter of Richmond’s effort to obtain underwater mortgages – either by buying them or seizing them with the power of eminent domain – in order to help homeowners refinance.
Zentella said she has been trying to discuss loan modification with Wells Fargo for the past two years. In July, the bank told her that she would be eligible to refinance through the Keep Your Home California program, which would have helped her avoid foreclosure. But the bank later told her that it wasn’t participating in the program.
“Now they’re just sending me letters,” Zentella said. “I try to call, and I get a big runaround.”
As Zentella appealed to the bank manager inside, supporters quietly picketed in front of the bank, holding signs that called on the bank to help keep families in their homes.
“We’re just representing [Zentella] as home defenders, trying to protect her home,” said Melvin Willis, 23, an Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment member. “I don’t like seeing foreclosures happen to people.”
Alliance organizer David Sharples said that Wells Fargo is violating the Homeowner Bill of Rights – a new set of statewide foreclosure reforms that took effect in January. The law prevents lenders from foreclosing on a home while a loan modification application is pending – a process known as “dual-tracking.”
“Basically, that’s what they’re doing with [Zentella],” Sharples said. “They’re supposedly talking to her about doing a loan modification, but at the same time, they’re in the process of foreclosing on her.”
Wells Fargo spokeswoman Mariana Phipps said the bank would try to assist borrowers on a one-on-one basis. The bank encourages borrowers to come to the bank before working with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.
“Wells Fargo supports efforts to assist borrowers and to stabilize communities, but we share the many serious concerns that have been expressed about the proposed use of eminent domain power to acquire mortgage loans,” said Phipps in a statement.
The bank has been at the center of the battle to prevent foreclosures and keep people in their homes, and this isn’t the first time that demonstrators have stormed Wells Fargo branches. This isn’t even a new occurrence at the McDonald Avenue branch.
In February, a group of protestors organized by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment staged a similar event at the same bank branch. And in August, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and a group of supporters were locked out of the bank’s corporate headquarters after demanding a meeting with CEO John Stumpf.