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Man who inspired homeowner bill dies
NATHAN GILLES
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO

Jim Crockford is pictured doing one of the things he loved most, taking his dog Corbett, right, to a local park-Thompson in east Portland-to meet and play with dog friends.
Mid-county Memo photo/Tim Curran
Wilkes resident Jim Crockford had been battling to stay in his home for his remaining years. In the end, he got what he wanted.

On Jan. 14, Mid-county Memo publisher and friend Tim Curran found the 85-year-old Crockford dead of a heart attack in his home. The county coroner estimates Crockford died three days earlier. Before his death, for roughly three years, Crockford fought what looked like a losing battle with his mortgage holder and the state of Oregon to stay in his home. However, his motives were largely personal, his singular desire to keep his house earned Crockford a legacy well beyond Wilkes.

As the Memo reported last month, starting in January 2014, homeowners previously excluded from the Oregon Property Tax Deferral for Disabled and Senior Citizens program were allowed to reapply. According to lawmakers and activists who helped push for the Oregon bill that made this possible, Crockford was a big reason this happened.

“[Crockford] was able to inspire something that will help a lot of people into the future. So that's a great legacy to have,” said Oregon State Representative Jessica Vega Pederson.

Vega Pederson, who represents Oregon House District 47, said Crockford and other homeowners in her district inspired her to create Oregon House Bill 2510, which has allowed the homeowners to reapply. The Oregon Property Tax Deferral program helps low-income and disabled senior citizens stay in their homes by allowing them to defer their county income taxes. These taxes are then paid by the state through what is, in effect, a loan with the homeowners' houses used as collateral.

In current session of the Oregon legislature, Vega Pederson will be cosponsoring Oregon House Bill 4148, which has been introduced by Representative Nancy Nathanson and is designed to change the interest charged these homeowners from a compound six percent to a simple six-percent interest rate.

In an interview with the Memo in December, Crockford said he turned to the deferral program after both he and his wife got ill and their combined medical expenses nearly lost them their home. Unfortunately, the program has not always done the best job of taking care of homeowners like Crockford.

The tax deferral program was created in1963. It ran successfully for years. Then it ran into tough times.

The problems began with the housing crisis and recession of the late 2000s. The economic downturn and the way the program's funds were being managed made the program financially unstable, according to a comprehensive 2012 Oregon State University (OSU) analysis.

Lawmakers responded to the program's teetering finances by passing HB 2543, which instituted a series of new rules. As a result, roughly half of the program's 10,500 participants were dropped, according to the OSU study.

Among those left behind were homeowners who had reverse mortgages. A reverse mortgage is a financial tool that allows seniors to access their homes' equity and live off it.

David Raphael of the advocacy group the Alliance of Vulnerable Homeowners says reverse mortgages are often taken out by homeowners struggling to make ends meet.

“These are low-income people who would not take out a reverse mortgage if they had another option,” said Raphael. “This is a move people make when they're trying to suck whatever cash and any equity they might have from their property.”

According to the OSU study, 1,700 tax deferral program participants were eliminated solely because they held reverse mortgages. Former participants surveyed by the researchers reported they made less than $15,000 a year on average.

Like other homeowners, Crockford said he took out a reverse mortgage because he felt he had no other option.

Crockford said his troubles started about five years ago when his wife, Norma, was diagnosed with cancer. She died from the disease in 2011. Crockford himself had been diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. The medication he took to rid his body of the growth ravaged his pituitary gland. After joining the deferral program, with medical bills looming, Crockford took out a reverse mortgage. He received his reverse mortgage from a local company. Due to Crockford's death, the Memo was unable to confirm the name of this company.

Then, according to both Crockford and his lawyer, Chris Burke, the local company sold Crockford's mortgage to an Atlanta, Ga. company called Generation Mortgage.

Generation Mortgage didn't return the Memo's call but fielded the Memo's request for an interview through an Atlanta public relations firm called Three. As this story goes to print, neither Three nor Generation Mortgage has issued a statement on Crockford's case.

The mortgage sale, according to Crockford, forced him out of the tax deferral program.

Bob Estabrook, spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Revenue, which oversees the deferral program, was not able to confirm this. Estabrook did confirm Crockford had once been a program member but had not had his taxes paid by the state.

In what Crockford described as “bad timing,” the sale of his mortgage corresponded with the 2011 rule changes that booted out all reverse mortgage holders. Crockford was not allowed to reapply to the program. Along the way, he met Raphael, who later formed the Alliance of Vulnerable Homeowners.

According to Raphael, following the 2011 rule changes, groups like his started organizing homeowners who were kicked out of the program. They called their state representatives, who responded.

In 2012, Oregon lawmakers passed a bill that temporarily allowed reverse mortgage holders back into the deferral program. The following year, another bill made this process permanent. Nevertheless, this bill, HB 2489, didn't help everyone, including Crockford. An untold number of homeowners with reverse mortgages still did not qualify to reapply. That is when Vega Pederson met with her constituents and later pushed for HB 2510. Among the first to meet with her was Crockford.

Vega Pederson's HB 2510 passed late in the 2013 session. On Jan. 2, the first day homeowners qualifying under HB 2510 were allowed to reapply to the deferral program, Crockford called Raphael to tell him he had reapplied. Yet in this there is an unfortunate irony. Crockford, who helped inspire the reapplication bill, might not have qualified to be readmitted to the program due to the unique circumstance of his case. The reasons why get complicated, but on this point, both Raphael and Estabrook agree: had he lived, it is not certain Crockford would have been allowed back into the program.

Estabrook told the Memo the Department of Revenue so far has received 363 applications to reapply to the program. In the first year of the reapplication process, the state can allow only 700 applicants back in by law. Each following year, the state can allow progressively more people back in.

Regardless, getting back in the deferral program might have been the least of Crockford's housing worry. In November 2013, Generation Mortgage decided to take Crockford into foreclosure.

“This letter, it came out of the clear blue sky, and I got no money for an attorney, but I have to answer it,” said Crockford.

The letter Crockford was referring to was a court summons. Like many former program members, Crockford had not paid his back taxes in years. He said he simply could not afford to. However, Generation Mortgage had been paying Crockford's taxes, which was one reason the company cited in its effort to foreclose on him.

Crockford's lawyer, Chris Burke, confirmed that Crockford had received and responded to the summons. Burke was representing Crockford pro bono.

“I was real disappointed to hear of his death,” said Burke. “He seemed like a real genuine person and someone in real need of assistance, a person who had been wronged by a financial institution.”

Burke said he felt confident he had formulated a strategy that would have allowed Crockford to stay in his home.

“There was a way that we were going to be able to prevail,” said Burke. “But before I got to do that, I got the call that he'd passed.”

Rori Koingbeil, Crockford's daughter and only surviving heir, told the Memo she didn't yet know what she wanted to do about the house and had no idea how “under water” her father had gotten. She said she would be reaching out to Burke in the coming days.

“He was a very smart man and only wanted to see right done by older people,” said Koingbeil about her father's role in helping other homeowners. “It's a shame, an absolute shame that once you get old, people just toss you aside. I'm proud of him.”

Raphael told the Memo the Alliance of Vulnerable Homeowners has decided to honor Crockford by creating a James Crockford award to be given out each year to homeowner advocates. Raphael said he hopes Crockford's contribution will keep others from experiencing the kind of stress Crockford went through.

“I think with many people it's really hard to make a direct causal connection, but there [are] so many people I ran into the last few years who were anxious and whose health declined who really were put through torture on this,” said Raphael. “I have no doubt the stress [Crockford] experienced over the last couple of years really contributed to his death."


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