The owners of the three houses, at 40, 42, and 60 School Street, all entered into a Hazard Mitigation Grant buyout program, and after two long years, the town has a cautious closing date with FEMA of October 3, and has already chosen the winning bidders for asbestos abatement and demolition of the properties. But the Carusos may have to remain in limbo for the time being after Bank of America began foreclosure proceedings on 42 School Street in Bennington Court in February.
According to homeowner Holly Caruso, she and her husband stopped making mortgage payments after the flood, and Bank of America was uncooperative and unreachable when efforts were made to bring the situation to their attention, or to come to a settlement price. Bank of America’s foreclosure proceedings were thrown out after the bank failed to file the proper paperwork on time.
“The town is trying to buy the property,” said town administrator Mark Shea. “To close, we need a price of how much they owe on the mortgage and Bank of America has been unwilling to provide that, and until we get that figure, we can’t put it on a HUD 1 statement and close.”
In the meantime, Bank of America sold the Carusos’ mortgage to Carrington Mortgage Company, which Caruso says has also been uncooperative and has failed to communicate. As the Carusos’ attorney Ted Kramer attempts to resolve the issue, along with the town’s attorney and FEMA, Caruso said that Bank of America is still charging interest on the loan. Due to the length of time since the flood, the buyout money now will not even cover the mortgage.
“It’s been very stressful,” said Caruso. “That was my husband’s childhood home and my children’s childhood home. It was especially tough on them being uprooted and living in two different places since. It would be nice to see this all over.”
While Shea said that this roadblock does not take the buyout plan for 42 School Street off the table, it would be wise of Bank of America to resolve the issue. If the house is foreclosed, then neither the homeowner nor the bank would end up seeing a penny from the buyout program. Once a settlement number is given to FEMA, FEMA will have 30 days to close on the Carusos’ property with the town.
While the Carusos wait, the other two houses will be allowed to continue on schedule with the program. Shea said that the town and FEMA created separate buyouts for each property in case of a scenario like this.
The entire situation is nerve-racking for the town as the continued delay puts the rest of the street at risk. Demolition of the properties to the left and right of the Carusos’ creates the danger of damaging 42 School Street’s stability on the bank. Until all three properties are demolished, the town will have to wait to repair the bank behind them, which has continued to deteriorate and inch closer to the other properties on that side of School Street.
“The longer we wait, the more serious it becomes,” said Shea. “If we don’t act soon we’ll have serious issues related to the other properties, and the remedy will be to pay significantly more money to fortify the toe of the river and protect the remaining houses and properties from unnecessary decay.”
The Carusos’ house has become the linchpin for securing the entire row of houses. “If the toe of the bank is not fixed it will keep pounding on the next house, and the next house, and eventually down to the municipal firehouse,” said Shea.
On August 28, the town sent a letter to Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Patrick Leahy, and Rep. Peter Welch asking for their assistance to “effectively facilitate the Bank of America’s need to finalize the settlement with the homeowners, thus allowing them to participate in this buyout program.
“There is no question that this is in everyone’s best interest to move forward and urge them not to stall any longer,” the letter continues.
Shea says that the town’s hope is that the legislators may be able to use their scope of influence to help facilitate a conclusion to the ordeal.
“Our legislators are on important committees in Washington, and we’re hoping through their resources and connections they can help the homeowners and the town. The homeowners are voters and their constituents.”