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Owner asks court to let her stay in home
By Sarah L. Smith
Anna Wilson will be able to stay in her house for the holidays, after Habitat for Humanity agreed to give her another chance. But she will have to convince the nonprofit’s board to let her take back the title to the house on Grate Avenue that she signed over in lieu of foreclosure this fall.
“I had the money,” Wilson testified in magistrate’s court this week. “I had it in the bank to pay. I say and God say, to please have mercy on me. If you help do that, I give you my check every third [week] of the month. I’m begging the Habitat family to have mercy on me. I know I did wrong, but I ask to please, please give me another chance.”
Habitat sought an order from Magistrate Dan Furr requiring Wilson to move out of the home.
Wilson got help in presenting her case from Celeste Dennison, her cousin, and Jermaine Wilson, her oldest child.
Furr agreed to let Habitat’s board meet with Wilson and her family members later this month to decide whether it will let Wilson keep her Habitat home and resume making payments.
Wilson and various family members have lived in the house since Habitat volunteers built it in 1998. In order to move in, Wilson and her family had to work 400 hours on Habitat houses or at fund-raising events.
Wilson had a low monthly mortgage payment, but in the past five years Habitat had to work with her to make sure she made her mortgage payments, said Annette Perrault, Habitat’s executive director.
When Wilson missed nine months of mortgage payments this year, Habitat moved to take back the title to the house.
Wilson testified that she didn’t receive any of the notices mailed by Habitat. Habitat submitted the letters, including one sent through certified mail, as evidence. Wilson doesn’t have a phone.
Habitat offered a “forbearance contract” that would allow Wilson to pay back the missed mortgage payments over time and turn over title to the house in lieu of foreclosure.
Wilson said she didn’t understand what she was signing.
Dennison and Jermaine Wilson told the court that Anna Wilson believed signing the agreement would allow her to keep the house.
Perrault said she let Wilson take the paperwork home to read it again and talk to someone she trusted if she had questions.
Anna Wilson said she didn’t show it to anyone or ask for guidance.
She signed the agreement and paid about $2,000 to Habitat. She missed her final $200 payment, and as a result, did not fulfill her part of the contract.
That contract also required Wilson to get financial counseling with Loretta Washington-Cooper, the Georgetown County treasurer and tax collector, and check in by phone with Habitat each month, Perrault told the court.
Wilson did neither.
“I would submit to the court that Habitat didn’t have any other choice,” said David Gundling, the nonprofit’s attorney. “Habitat has to treat people evenhandedly in every situation. In this case, this agreement has been extended to several other families.”
A family in the McNeil Drive neighborhood signed a similar agreement at the same time Wilson did. They met the October deadline to move out. Wilson did not.
“Not having a title, I would request to the court that she vacate in a reasonable time. They’re not doing this to be mean or unfair,” Gundling said.
He argued that Habitat now owns the property, pays taxes on it and has a waiting list of people ready to pay the mortgage.
Dennison gave a closing argument for Wilson.
“If you could consider giving her another chance, she will pay on time,” Dennison said. “Give her another chance. She’s not young. She needs another chance.”
Both Dennison and Wilson were emotional.
“I used my hands, my labor,” Dennison said as she pounded on the table, “doing work on the house.”
She and Wilson’s son offered to do anything they could to make sure Wilson makes her monthly mortgage payments.
As Dennison begged the judge to help, Perrault and Gundling huddled over a calendar.
Gundling asked Furr if Habitat could make Wilson an offer.
“As a legal matter, there’s not much that can be done,” he said. “I spoke with Mrs. Perrault and there is a Habitat board meeting on Dec. 17, and I would invite Anna, her son and Mrs. Dennison to come and make their case.”
He asked Furr to decide whether Wilson must leave Habitat property after the new year.
“I think that is a very generous offer,” Furr said. “I’m going to hold my decision. If it’s denied, I’ll render a decision after the Christmas holiday.”
He encouraged Wilson and her family to attend the board meeting.
Gundling said he will send the board’s decision in writing to the court.
“I’m a great admirer of Habitat for Humanity,” Furr said, looking at both parties. “I personally took part, and I understand that folks have to live up to their side of the bargain.”
Dennison and Perrault exchanged information after judge left the courtroom.
“It’s fair at this point,” Dennison said.
Wilson said she was just happy she could stay in her home for Christmas.