Alma Foster, 77, and her sister Theresa, 73, have lived in their home in Hawthorne, CA, for some 25 years. At one time their mother lived there as well, and Alma, a retired nurse, took care of her in her final years. Theresa was by then retired from her job as a diesel mechanic for the MTA—one of the first women to hold that position—and the three women liked to call themselves the Golden Girls.
In 2015, Alma needed to repair the roof. When a contractor quoted her $7,500 for the job, she told him she couldn’t afford it on her social security income. But he told her not to worry—a government program would make it affordable. He was talking about a program meant to provide financing for energy-efficient home improvements, but which has instead given unscrupulous contractors a financial incentive to take advantage of some of LA County’s most vulnerable residents.
The contractor led Alma to believe she was getting a government subsidy to help pay for energy-efficient fixes, but instead the county recorded a lien against her home, which would be financed over 20 years at an exorbitant interest rate. Over the life of the loan, Alma would have to pay more than $176,000 for roof shingles and paint. Alma’s annual tax bill increased significantly. The first year, she and her sister wiped out their savings to pay it. The second year, Alma entered into a payment plan with the county. After that, she could no longer pay. Because she had taken a reverse mortgage, her failure to pay taxes triggered foreclosure proceedings.
Faced with crippling debt and the prospect of losing the only home she knew, Alma sought help from NLSLA. Andrés Rapoport, NLSLA’s Associate Director of Litigation & Policy Advocacy, took on her case. He realized quickly that Alma and Theresa would have nowhere to go if they lost their home, and he filed lawsuits against the contractor, the county, and others involved in the scheme. It was the beginning of a years-long advocacy effort, during which Alma and Theresa teetered on the brink of foreclosure. But Andrés didn’t give up, and it was ultimately a battle the Foster sisters won.
“Home should be a place where we always get to feel safe,” Andrés said. “There was no way we could let the Fosters lose their home.”