Wells Fargo Bank filed a motion to dismiss in Cobb Superior Court on Jan. 15, claiming it acted entirely within the laws of Georgia when it foreclosed on Chambers’ Marietta house and sold it to an investor on the courthouse steps at a Sept. 1, 2009, foreclosure auction. Chambers was evicted on Jan. 9, 2013, by the investor.
Chambers lived for the next 12 months out of his Toyota minivan, parked at the Wal-Mart on Cobb Parkway off Roswell Street. His only companion was his dog, a 7-year-old male border collie named Scout, who helped keep him warm on cold winter nights, including one night earlier this month when temperatures dipped to 5 degrees.
Through it all, Chambers’ mantra was “I just want my house back” and he paid out thousands of dollars in legal fees to lawyers who found themselves overmatched by attorneys working for the big banks.
Chambers’ mortgage had been sold from one lender to another, but Wells Fargo continued to service the loan and had the right to foreclose when Chambers fell into default, according to the bank’s recent court filings.
“Under current Georgia law, the holder of a deed to secure debt is authorized to exercise the power of (foreclosure) sale in accordance with the terms of the deed, even if it does not also hold the note or otherwise have any beneficial interest in the debt obligation underlying the deed,” Wells Fargo attorneys wrote in the motion, citing a previous Georgia Supreme Court case to back up their argument.
Wells Fargo’s Atlanta attorney, Daniel Moore, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
The bank’s Cobb County spokesman, Jay Lawrence, said the bank wiped its hands of Chambers’ case years ago and should not even be a defendant in the homeless veteran’s current wrongful foreclosure suit. Chambers’ first lawsuit was filed in May 2012 and dismissed a year later. Chambers re-filed his suit Dec. 2, 2013, according to court documents.
“We’ve helped more than 40,000 homeowners in metro Atlanta avoid foreclosure,” Lawrence said. “We worked with Mr. Chambers for almost two years to try to find a way to keep him in his home, but unfortunately we weren’t successful. We transferred the property to the investor after the foreclosure sale was completed.”
Since then, Lawrence said Freddie Mac, the new owner, has responsibility for Chambers’ former home on Parkview Drive in Marietta.
“The investor (Freddie Mac) has managed the disposition of the property since then, and is the only one who can make decisions about the property going forward,” Lawrence said. “We are truly saddened by Mr. Chambers’ current circumstances but our records indicate the foreclosure was conducted in an appropriate manner. That’s why we’re seeking dismissal of the lawsuit.”
Chambers was evicted from his home by Freddie Mac in January 2013 without notice, he said. He said he returned home that day to the sight of men tossing his personal belongings out of his house. His bed, his drafting table and other items laid in pieces on the concrete sidewalk.
“We weren’t involved in the January 2013 eviction,” Lawrence said. “The reason he’s naming us (in the suit) again this time around is he’s still got a beef with us. We respectfully disagree with him. We work hard to avoid foreclosures. It’s unfortunate when it happens.”
Help on the way?
Meanwhile, a nonprofit formed by local Realtors Melody Unger and Rose Hochman has raised just over $16,000 over the past two weeks to help Chambers get his house back. That’s still well short of their goal of raising $50,000, the minimum it will likely take to buy back the veteran’s former home and deed it over to Chambers.
Nationwide media attention came Chambers’ way after MDJ first reported his story more than two weeks ago. While much support has been gained, including a helping hand from Marietta’s American Legion Post 29, which paid for Chambers to be put up in a local hotel for about 10 days, the goal of getting him back in his house will take legal aid and at least $30,000 more in donations, Hochman said.
The outpouring of help “has been great, but I think is misleading in that we still have a really long way to go” in raising the $50,000, Hochman said. “Also, we really do need some legal help at a very reduced rate.”
Unger and Hochman are with Keller Williams Cityside in Smyrna. They reported Friday they have collected 107 checks along with some cash donations. Another 11 people have donated using PayPal transactions on the website they have set up, jrchomefund.org.
A woman from Minnesota read about Chambers’ plight and offered to set up the website for free, Unger said.
Donations have ranged from $10 sent in by an elderly World War II veteran to a $2,000 check sent from a family trust in Naples, Fla.
United Community Bank on Cherokee Street in Marietta has set up an account free of charge for the JRC Home Fund, Unger said.
“One-hundred percent of the donations are going into this account to be used solely for the purpose of housing for John Chambers,” Unger said. “Our mission is to help him get a house, to replace a lost home if we can’t get the home back that he lost.”
The only expenses the nonprofit will incur is the 1.7 percent charge by PayPal for each donation made through the website, she said.
Unger said some who have donated are dog lovers motivated by the thought of helping not only a veteran but his loyal canine friend.
One anonymous cash donation came in the mail with a card, the cover of which had a picture of a collie similar to Scout.
“I saw the article and I was so touched that you would not leave your dog,” wrote the donor, who signed only with her first name, Diane. “Quite a man. I want to be one of the hundred that help you keep your home. I am proud of you. I hope it helps. Diane.”
Housing situation still in limbo
Chambers is still living in a local motel, though he is now paying for it himself with help from friends.
On Wednesday, his longtime friend, Carl Parsons, returned to Marietta following an extended period doing military contract work in Kuwait.
Parsons said he kept in contact with Chambers by phone during his year-long spate of homelessness.
“John’s in much better spirits now,” Parsons said. “When I was in Kuwait I’d call him once every couple of weeks or so, and things were pretty bleak. I told him to hang in there and I’d try to send him some money when I could, to make sure he had food.”
Chambers has also qualified over the past two weeks for Section 8 housing vouchers offered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs through the Marietta Housing Authority.
But he is reluctant to accept the vouchers, which are in limited supply. In fact, the Housing Authority only had a few left when news about Chambers broke on Jan. 9.
“I told her I have a car and have been sleeping in it,” Chambers said of his conversation with the VA representative. “I told her if there’s another veteran out there that’s sleeping on the sidewalk that needs a place, they should give it to him.
“I have a problem, to be honest with you, taking a voucher that somebody else might need more. They insist there is no other vet out there sleeping on the street and I kind of wonder how they know that.”
So, he intends to live in the motel for a bit longer, while continuing to keep up his legal fight.
If he has to move into government-subsidized housing, he said he will reconsider it later.
“That’s good news, that I qualified for the vouchers, but I still want my house back,” Chambers said. “Like I’ve been telling people, it hasn’t been horrible living in my car. I’ve had my solitude and my peace. This has kind of been my safety zone, my safety place. I love camping and things like that, so it’s like being in the outdoors.”
As for all of the media attention since the MDJ shed light on his story, Chambers said he’s still a bit dazed by it all.
“I feel like Forest Gump. It’s crazy,” he said. “All of a sudden I’m important and I don’t feel important. I sort of understand, but there’s a lot of people out there like me. I’m being singled out. I just don’t feel that special. Until all this I had a boring life. Until this happened my excitement was sitting in the car and listening to the Braves game on the radio.”
Want to help?
There are several ways to donate to the JRC Home Fund, a nonprofit set up for John Chambers, a homeless Vietnam veteran who lost his house in Marietta to foreclosure and is now living in a local hotel.
* Go to website and use PayPal: jrchomefund.org
* Contact via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
* Snail mail address: 4290 Bells Ferry Road Suite 134-223 Kennesaw, GA 30144