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Sun-Times: Jesse Jackson Intervenes in Reverse Mortgage Default

Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson threw his influence into a Chicago reverse mortgage foreclosure case involving a 97-year-old reverend and community leader, according to a column in Tuesday’s Chicago Sun-Times.

The Rev. Helen Sinclair, known locally as “Queen Mother,” received a foreclosure judgment from Wells Fargo in January, Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell reported. Sinclair, a former prison chaplain who continues to visit with inmates across Illinois, took out a reverse mortgage on the Bronzeville home where she has lived since childhood, but faced trouble paying the taxes and insurance during her more than five years with the loan.

According to Sinclair, she worked out a repayment plan with lender Wells Fargo, which had been forced to cover her missed obligations. But when she couldn’t meet the repayments, Wells Fargo moved to foreclose on the property, taking out public notices in the local Hyde Park Herald on three dates in April.

Sinclair claims she was unaware that the bank could move to foreclose on her property. The nonagenarian served as the executive director of the prison ministry at Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition organization, and the civil rights leader and Chicago fixture told the Sun-Times that he planned to reach out to Wells Fargo and help prevent Sinclair from losing her home.

“She’s an outstanding community servant who has helped people for so long,” Jackson told the paper. “I’m definitely going to call the bank on her behalf.”

Wells Fargo has since delayed the action, and a bank spokesman indicated that the company will attempt to reach an alternate solution to the problem. The San Francisco-based banking giant exited the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage business in 2011, having previously ranked as the largest reverse mortgage lender in the country.

Chicago has seen its share of bad reverse mortgage headlines in recent years: Just last summer, businessman Mark Diamond was ordered to pay a $2.4 million settlement after he allegedly convinced more than 30 homeowners on the city’s south and west sides to take out reverse mortgages, then give him the proceeds to perform home repairs — work that turned out to be shoddy or incomplete, according to the Illinois attorney general’s office. As recently as this March, many of the homeowners who worked with Diamond — primarily older African-Americans — had yet to receive the settlement money, according to the Chicago Reporter. 

The scandal also prompted Land of Lincoln lawmakers to pass the Reverse Mortgage Act in 2015, which instituted a three-day “cooling-off” period for borrowers and empowered the state to create its own HECM educational materials.

Mitchell’s column in the Sun-Times reflects the confusion and anger toward reverse mortgage lenders in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs.

“I’m confident that Sinclair’s situation will be resolved, but what about the population of aging boomers just waiting to be picked off by lenders?” Mitchell asks rhetorically, citing a 2015 Consumer Financial Protection Bureau study that revealed many seniors still don’t understand HECMs, despite growing coverage in the media and state-mandated educational counseling sessions.

“Sinclair is hoping that other seniors will pay better attention to what reverse mortgages are, and not take the word of actor Tom Selleck,” Mitchell’s column concludes, referring to the latest TV spokesman for industry leader American Advisors Group.

Written by Alex Spanko