The Tellez family won’t leave

December 7, 2010

Rory Fanning reports on a struggle to save a family's home from the bankers.

CHICAGO'S SUB-freezing temperatures in Chicago aren't the only thing keeping the Tellez family in their home this week. The family is waiting to see if Cook County sheriffs try to evict them from their home.

The family, supported by activists from the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign (CAEC) and scores of residents in its Northwest Side neighborhood, held a press conference December 1 to declare their plans to stay in their home, despite a court order to leave by December 4, 2010.

Silvia and Alvaro Tellez purchased their home in 2006 for $405,000 and got a loan for $326,000 from the bank HSBC. Their interest rate skyrocketed to 8.5 percent after the adjustable rate kicked in two years ago (and meanwhile, the biggest banks are getting money from the federal funds window run by the Federal Reserve at interest rates close to zero). They then attempted to refinance the mortgage with Litton Bank, which assured the family the refinance would go through, and to stop paying the original mortgage.

After a few months and thousands of dollars in processing costs, their modification request was denied. Not knowing what else to do, the family started paying HSBC nearly $5,000 a month in the hopes of stopping the foreclosure. After a few months, the bank sent one of their checks back--they cashed the rest--saying it was too late. HSBC told the Tellezes that it would be proceeding with the foreclosure, and there was nothing more the family could do.

Silvia and Alvaro Tellez speak out about their struggle to stay in their home at a Chicago press conference
Silvia and Alvaro Tellez speak out about their struggle to stay in their home at a Chicago press conference

In early September, the home was bought outright by HSBC for $100,000--more than $300,000 less than it was purchased for.

MEMBERS OF the Chicago Anti-Eviction Campaign, who have begun attending eviction court to meet families they can help, listened to the Tellezes' final hearing, which lasted less than a minute. Alvaro made a final nervous plea: "Judge, we want to work with the bank. We will pay them as much as we can so we can to stay in our home...They won't return our phone calls."

The judge's last words to the family were: "Too bad."

As they left court with lost and anxious faces, members of the campaign invited the Tellezes to the group's weekly meeting. The family showed up the following Wednesday to tell their story, along with their daughter, who requires special education as a junior at a Chicago high school. Silvia told the CAEC that she and Alvaro didn't know what to do because they couldn't find anyone who would rent to them after their credit was destroyed by the foreclosure.

The campaign quickly realized that the family had done everything within their means to save their home. Collectively, activists came up with a strategy that involved canvassing the family's neighborhood to inform other people of the situation. The Tellezes also decided to hold a press conference to pressure the bank into opening up negotiations and to let the entire city know they weren't leaving. The press conference would be followed by a barbeque in the backyard so local residents could tour the home.

The family energetically took the reins and rallied the neighborhood. Large signs, to be draped from the Tellez home, were drawn by the daughter and her friends from school. The signs called for an end to all economically motivated foreclosures.

The press conference--where Alvaro told multiple news outlets that he would either "stay and pay or stay and not pay, it's the banks choice"--was well attended by local residents and activists. And the barbeque helped organize a standby list in the neighborhood so residents and activists could be on call to step in form a human chain to prevent the sheriff from displacing the family.

As the Tellez family waits for the sheriff--eviction windows are varied due to an eviction schedule of up to 400 a day in Cook County--they know they have the full support of their neighborhood and anti-eviction activists. They are not alone as they stand up against the corruption of the banking system and a complicit government.

The Tellez family is turning their fear and sorrow into hope, just defiance, community development and inspiration for us all.

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