NORTH TEXAS (CBS 11 NEWS) - Myrtle Lewis is 103-years-old …living in the warmth of her North Texas home and bracing for a fight.
"I'd just fight everything within reach, I'd be so upset," Lewis told CBS 11's I-Team, as she sat in her living room, taking time away from a favorite pastime – watching old westerns on TV.
Granddaughter Akelia Hurd and the rest of the family are also mad. "Honestly, it's so evil … real evil," said Hurd, 31. "Leave my grandmom alone, just leave her alone," she said.
Their anger is directed at OneWest Bank, which holds the note on a reverse mortgage loan issued to Lewis in 2003. She was 92 at the time.
Now OneWest, which is based in California with a small office in Dallas, is attempting to foreclose on Lewis' home after she accidentally allowed her insurance to lapse, a violation of the loan agreement.
Nothing changed even after Lewis realized the mistake and reinstated the insurance.
Just the thought of being forced out of her house gets this centenarian riled up. She made that very clear during her interview with the I-Team.
"I don't know why you'd ask me a question like that because you know it would break my heart," Mrytle snapped.
Government-backed reverse mortgages were designed to make life more comfortable for senior citizens, allowing them to take out a loan – using the equity they've built up in their homes – without having to pay it back in monthly installments.
Instead, payment can be made in full after the borrower dies, often by taking over the home left in the borrower's estate.
But there are downsides to reverse mortgages, according to a report issued to Congress in 2012.
And Lewis' court appointed attorney, Jason Smith of Fort Worth, said financial institutions factor in a senior citizen's remaining life expectancy to determine when they will get a return on their investment.
"Reverse mortgages are a bet by the mortgage company that they're going to make money …and someone's going to die early," Smith told the I-Team, adding, "In this case, Myrtle Lewis won the bet, and the mortgage company wants to welch."
The government's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reported to Congress in 2012 that reverse mortgages can be "complex" and "difficult for consumers to understand." It also said "industry practices," including "misleading advertising," can "create risks for consumers."
The CFPB estimated that nearly 10 percent of elderly borrowers find themselves at risk of losing their homes, either from unpaid taxes or lapses in insurance coverage, after taking out a reverse mortgage. It added that such cases are increasing.
"I'm not going to let that happen," Hurd said, looking over at her grandmother. "We're going to fight this and do what we have to do …it's not right," she said.
OneWest Bank declined repeated requests for an interview, or a statement. Instead, a company representative told the I-Team it was abiding by all the rules, set by the government, in dealing with Lewis.
But the long-retired child care provider says she has no plans of leaving her house – or this earth – anytime soon.
"I kind of think the man above is on my side," she said, with a chuckle.
If you have questions about whether you or a loved one should enter into a reverse mortgage loan, this link could help: http://www.aarp.org/money/credit-loans-debt/reverse_mortgages/
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