Batavia woman’s experiences, strength inspire city officials working on zombie homes
by: Jim Krencik
BATAVIA — With multiple generations of her family needing medical treatment, a Batavia woman spent every penny she had to her name to care for them.
Speaking to city officials Monday, Marguerite requested her last name not be publicized. Despite that privacy, she has been open to sharing with anyone the repeated challenges she faced and the help she received in the face of another personal upheaval.
Marguerite was fully two years behind on her mortgage when her lender indicated in 2013 that they were ready to foreclose on her home in the town of Batavia. She was already dealing with the financial and physical complications of neglecting her own needs for her family, but the notice struck at her dignity.
“My home was my sanctuary, my home was where I went to find all the peace and serenity I need,” she said. “It was my safeguard, it was my place to unwind, and lay on the grass with my grandchildren and look at the stars, the moon, the galaxy … the things that take you away from it all.”
Her mortgage lender’s notice also included a list that became another sanctuary. Marguerite said a recommendation to contact The Housing Council at Pathstone set in motion a relationship that saved her home as she moved between sources of turmoil that four years later are shaken off as tests of faith.
Sitting across the table, Assistant City Manager Gretchen DiFante and intern Lindsey Luft were overwhelmed by the adversity Marguerite faced. They are working to encourage more homeowners to pursue services like Pathstone’s and were both inspired and awed.
“It’s really inspired me to assure people that Pathstone is going to be a source of positivity for them, a source of strength, to help get them through a struggling situation in life,” Luft said.
The city has worked with community groups and churches to spread palm cards and fliers urging homeowners to use the no-cost, confidential services based out of The Housing Council at Pathstone’s Batavia office.
“Behind on your mortgage? We can help you,” the fliers say, with pledges to work with them on foreclosure prevention.
Marguerite said the impact was near-immediate for her.
It was a critical moment. She was out of work — her job in a hospital’s radiology department was eliminated after she went on an extended family medical leave in 2012 — and struggling with a series of permanent physical ailments. Her retirement and life insurance had been drained, and bills continued to mount despite a life of just the essentials.
“I’ve always been a strong, individual person, but I lost so much,” Marguerite said.
Within days, Pathstone had connected her with a pro-bono lawyer for her appearance in the foreclosure court, and the agency was assembling her financial records to show that she had not been wasteful. They directed her to assistance through the Expanded STAR tax exemption and social services, helping her to swallow her pride in accepting help.
Marguerite recalls shaking with anxiety as the court date arrived. The judge told it was OK, they were here to figure it out for her. Even the mortgage lender’s attorney explained they did not want to take her home.
“They kept true to that process … I wasn’t let down,” she said, a trial period of paying $300 a month toward the debt for three months, followed by a consolidated property tax, home loan and home insurance payment that was reduced soon after.
She urges people in her situation — Luft estimated more than 100 city residents are at least several months behind on their mortgages — to not give up. Her family and her church stepped up; as did the systems in place, but it was a personal journey.
“Be upfront, be honest, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” Marguerite said. “There’s so much to say … I’m still in my house.”