Christine Stuart photo

Not knowing what to do when the marshal showed up and told her she had two weeks to move out of her Hartford apartment because her landlord was in foreclosure, Evelyn Colon called 211.

“I didn’t know where to start,” Colon said. “I especially didn’t know where to go.”

Colon’s determination to stay in her apartment led to some creative legal aid lawyers who helped her change Fannie Mae’s policy for thousands just like her across the country.

A provision Congress included in its financial rescue bill made protecting tenants in good standing possible, but at the moment it only applies to properties mortgaged through Fannie Mae, one of two giant mortgage companies taken over by the federal government.

Legal Aid lawyers in Hartford, like Stephanie D’Ambrosio, who helped work on Colon’s case, said prior to this, tenants were largely overlooked. “Sometimes they’re more vulnerable than homeowners,” she said.

She said Ms. Colon likes her Marshall Street apartment because her daughter has serious asthma and it’s about a block from the hospital.

“It was so much stress. I was crying everyday,” Colon said.

Legal Aid lawyers in Hartford and New Haven have been working on cases similar to Ms. Colon’s.

Amy Eppler-Epstein, a staff attorney at New Haven Legal Aid, said there are about 45 similar cases pending around the state. She said there are three in New Haven and three in Hartford.

Eppler-Epstein said the letter US Senator Chris Dodd sent to the Federal Housing Finance Agency helped get Fannie Mae to pay attention to this issue.

She said she hopes other lenders including Freddie Mac, will follow suit.

Most multi-family apartment buildings are purchased as investment properties, so “aren’t you better off having a building occupied and people paying rent,” Eppler-Epstein reasoned.

US Senator Chris Dodd, who stopped by Colon’s apartment Monday morning to speak with Colon and legal aid lawyers, said the culture of lending institutions, is that it’s better to get people out of the homes so they can sell them again.

Now, that mentality doesn’t seem to make sense with approximately 9,000 foreclosures per day being filed across the country.

He said there about 7,000 to 10,000 cases similar to Colon’s across the country. “Those numbers seem low to me,” he said.

Dodd said he continues to be frustrated that banks receiving aid under the rescue package are not using the money to prevent foreclosures or rewrite the terms of the mortgage.

“Until we put a tourniquet on the foreclosure rates,” the economy will continue to tumble, Dodd said.