SEARSMONT, Maine — When Waldo County Deputy Wendall Story arrived at Barbara McIntosh’s Woodsman’s Mill Road home at 11 a.m. Wednesday, his job was to evict her. The home was being foreclosed.
But while he was there, phone calls from the lawyer and a representative of the loan company handling the foreclosure revealed McIntosh would get a stay of eviction and had until May 1 to resolve her debts.
McIntosh thanked Story and hugged him in relief.
“You go for it,” Story replied. “I’ll get out of your hair.”
McIntosh’s plight is not unlike that of many other people around the country who have been hit by the perfect storm of a lack of health insurance and predatory lending practices.
Unable to pay her medical bills, McIntosh took a mortgage on the home she owned outright in 1998. She took a second mortgage a few years later when she again became ill. At one point she owed more than $100,000 for a 40-day hospital stay, she said.
“I’m the train wreck of not having health care [insurance],” she said. “They put a lien on my house. If you don’t pay, you’re out.”
McIntosh, 55, said she suffers from a bad back, rheumatoid and osteoarthritis, multiple chemical sensitivities and other allergies. Although her recollection of her obligations was a bit fuzzy, she recalled that her initial mortgage payment was about $350 per month and the second payment was $600 per month.
An herbalist and organic farmer with declining health, McIntosh said her work and income were sporadic. When she was unable to keep up with her obligations, she stopped paying her mortgage. That was two years ago, she said.
“It’s a crazy situation,” McIntosh said. “I’ve been in financial trouble for quite a long time.”
Story said the sheriff’s department has served 79 foreclosure notices in Waldo County since the beginning of the year after having served 180 foreclosures last year. He said that most people walk away from their homes, but that he had been prepared to forcibly evict McIntosh had she resisted.
“I’m here to evict and seal [the house] up,” Story said.
While the deputy was there, McIntosh received a phone call and after a brief discussion passed the phone to Story. It was the loan company representative. As Story was speaking to her on McIntosh’s phone, he received a call on his own cell phone from the Massachusetts attorney handling the foreclosure.
With a phone in each ear, Story informed McIntosh she was “good to go” until May 1.
The reprieve was a fortunate situation for McIntosh. Although she had already stored most of her furniture, the house was still filled with her bedding, housewares, clothing and boxes of other items. Had she been forced to leave, her property would have been left behind.
Foreclosure activity in Maine appears to be lower than in many other states, Superintendent Lloyd LaFountain III of the state Bureau of Financial Institutions said recently. But nonetheless, home foreclosures in Maine increased during the last three months of 2008.
In January 2009, there were 308 foreclosures statewide, according to RealtyTrac, an online seller of foreclosed properties and 1,721 active foreclosures total. In the first five weeks of 2009, Pine Tree Legal Assistance and the Volunteer Lawyers Project opened 91 foreclosure cases statewide. During that same period in 2008, there were 40 cases, and in 2007 only five.
McIntosh said she was the source of many of her problems. She said that when she fell behind on her bills she began to ignore notices and other paperwork. When the mortgage company sent her letters warning of possible foreclosure, she never replied. She said that as the pressure mounted, the corresponding stress sapped her strength, and she was unable to focus on pulling herself together.
“There’s a lot of embarrassment that goes along with this,” she said. “People think you’re supposed to just buck up, but it’s not that easy.”
McIntosh said that while friends and family were willing to give her a place to stay, her chemical sensitivity prevented her from taking them up on the offers. She said “off-gassing” from wall-to-wall carpeting in the homes would damage her already stressed liver.
Instead, McIntosh said, she and her two cats would be living in the back of her pickup truck at her daughter’s home in Belfast until the campgrounds open. A third cat, which she said was too old to handle the stress of living in a truck, will be cared for by her daughter.
“I’m angry that she has to be moved out of her home,” Jamie McIntosh, 30, said of her mother. “I’m worried and a little bit helpless. I feel like I want to do something, but I don’t know what it is.”