Josephine Tolbert’s house is locked. It has a “No Trespassing” sign posted on the front door, but through the small lace-curtained windows at the front of the house, she can still see her daycare business.
“We have a little table where the kids draw, and play little games. There's a radio in the back that plays kiddie music, and they do their little kiddie dance. And its a wonderful daycare, I love it and the kids love it … It is beautiful, I wish you could get in there,” she describes.
It might seem like the worst of the foreclosure crisis is over, but the San Francisco resident is still feeling its impact. Tolbert had lived in her home at 150 Ankeny Street in the city's Portola District since 1975, opening a daycare business there in 1995. After running into financial trouble a few years ago, Tolbert was sued and her daycare temporarily shut down. When she fell behind on her payments, Bank of America sold Tolbert’s home in a short sale to real estate company True Compass, who evicted the 75-year-old great-grandmother two weeks ago. The company changed the locks on the house while Tolbert was out.
Tolbert lived upstairs and ran her business downstairs, making payments steadily over the years. In fact, her house was paid for in 2002, but then she was sued for what she terms "a domestic issue", and took out a loan against her house. Then, she was diagnosed with colon caner.
“I recovered quickly, got back on the road. ... I paid them off, and I was still trying to hold onto my home. I work very hard,” Tolbert remembers.
Tolbert’s original payment was about $1,100. After her loan was transferred a few times from its original lender, Tolbert eventually came to Bank of America, where the monthly payment amount doubled. Unable to afford the new payments, Tolbert began writing hardship letter after hardship letter, letting the bank know the circumstances of why she was falling on payments. Eventually, Tolbert had to hire an attorney to help her navigate the complicated process of trying to get a loan modification, but she still ultimately lost her battle.
On the day of the eviction, Tolbert returned to her home after dropping her granddaughter off at school, only to find three or four people standing in front of her house. The locks had been changed, and a sheriff's deputy kept her from going inside.
“And I was really kind of stunned at that move. They would not allow me to go in to get my medication, they would not allow me to get the baby's bottles. And the baby, the milk that I had, the baby was breast-fed, and then I could not get that milk, I could not get any diapers. They told me, ‘You can't go in there, this is our property,’” says Tolbert.
Tolbert points out that it’s nearly impossible for someone of her age to start over again with buying another home. But what hurts most, she says, is the feeling of being powerless in the face of the financial institutions and investors that have taken control of the property.
"And what made me really upset with the so-called buyers, how they sit up and feel so--like 'We got the power.' I tell you, I've been a law-abiding citizen, all of my 75 years. And you gonna come here and look at me like you're God? No way. You are not God. You may think you have the power, your money may have the power -- but you are not Almighty God, " Tolbert asserts.
Despite her recent hardships, Tolbert is optimistic, and says she is working on getting her house back.
“Things like this happen, it makes your self-esteem just really go down, and it makes you feel like a failure, you know. And make you feel like there is no hope. But you know, I'm a fighter … I'm going to find a way to get my house back.”