Rhonda Lancaster is a fighter. She inherited it from her mother, a former Black Panther. But now Lancaster finds herself going against a massive, complex opponent: foreclosure.
Lancaster, a local musician who has played with acts such as Earth, Wind and Fire, is trying to keep the Germantown home where she's lived for 35 years. Her mother signed a reverse mortgage near the end of her life, but Lancaster was unable to get her name on the deed. Much of her money went to paying her mother's medical bills, making it hard to keep up with the mortgage, and shortly after her mother passed in 2009, the home went into foreclosure, she said.
Despite appealing to lawyers and seeking legal counsel, Lancaster has been unable to modify the loan or get financial assistance. Yet, she doesn't plan to pack up and go. "I refuse to lay down and take it," Lancaster said last week in front of her house, where a large banner reads "Keep families in their homes." "Somebody has to stand up. This steamrolling has to be stopped."
More Philadelphia homeowners are finding themselves in Lancaster's position. In February, the Philadelphia area saw a huge jump in foreclosure filings, with one filing for every 828 homes. That was up 47 percent from February 2011, according to RealtyTrac, which analyzes data nationwide. Miami and Tampa, both in Florida, were the only metropolitan areas that saw a bigger spike.
Last week, some of Lancaster's fellow musicians held an event at her home to raise awareness about her situation. Neighbors and friends have also joined in protesting her eviction, which could happen any day.
Cheri Honkala, founder of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign and a longtime advocate for homeowners, said Lancaster's case is shedding light on a serious problem. "People are really beginning to unite with this idea [of supporting their neighbors]," she said. "They're against adding more blight to the neighborhood."
Behind the rising numbers
Experts say the dramatic increase in foreclosure filings is the result of a multibillion-dollar settlement between 49 states and five of the nation's largest lenders. The settlement laid out clear steps for banks to proceed with foreclosures, and some banks are now pushing through foreclosures that had been delayed.
"I do anticipate that overall we're going to see an increase in [foreclosures] in 2012 from 2011," RealtyTrac vice president Daren Blomquist said. "These delays were in place for a long time, over a year, so I think we're going to see the increases from a [month] ago happen pretty much throughout this year."
At the same time, Pennsylvania's successful Homeowners' Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program ended due to lack of funding and a federal program has also expired.
Philadelphia Sheriff Jewel Williams is offering a free mortgage foreclosure prevention seminar April 9 at Temple University.
Williams' office said it will be the first in a series of free seminars to help homeowners. Those interested must call 215-686-3539 to register.