Through adversity, a homeowner’s resolve pays off
Out of work, hospitalized, and separated from family, Feliton Gauthier was able to get back on his feet financially, with help from a nonprofit housing agency and Wells Fargo.
For many years, Feliton Gauthier made all the right moves, fleeing violent strife in his native Haiti, getting political asylum in the U.S., working multiple jobs, and building a new life in south Florida for his wife and family.
But in April, as he was repairing his roof, Gauthier fell and broke his back. He ended up hospitalized for a month and cut off from his family during the pandemic. While recovering, he was furloughed from his job.
“It was a terrible time,” said Gauthier, a security officer for the Palm Beach County Zoo. “But I was determined to get back on my feet to take care of my family.”
Keeping people in their homes
Gauthier is among many customers nationwide who received support from Wells Fargo in 2020 as they faced housing insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis. On the business side, the company suspended foreclosure and eviction activity, provided payment deferrals, and waived fees for more than 3.6 million consumers and small businesses. On the charitable side, the foundation donated $225 million to nonprofits helping small businesses, renters, and homeowners.
Addressing critical housing needs remains a top priority for Wells Fargo as the COVID-19 crisis extends into 2021, amid hopes that vaccinations will stop the pandemic’s spread, the company said.
“Far too many people are going to continue to face housing instability this year,” said Eileen Fitzgerald, head of housing affordability philanthropy for the Wells Fargo Foundation. “We must maintain our focus on the goal of keeping people in their homes. It provides them a bedrock for wellness, dignity, and economic opportunity.”
“As we demonstrated in 2020, we remain committed to working with our customers during these tough times,” said Kristy Fercho, CEO of Wells Fargo Home Lending. “We will explore all options to help any distressed homeowner stay in their home, emerge from delinquency, and become current on their mortgage.”
Resiliency in the face of adversity
Antoinette McGrath, a housing counselor for the Urban League of Palm Beach County, has seen her caseload grow exponentially in 2020 as troubled homeowners sought help applying for federal CARES Act assistance. Her work is part of a wide range of services the league provides to low- and moderate-income African Americans and other minority clients during the pandemic — including job training, food assistance, financial guidance, education, COVID-19 testing, and other healthcare services.
“There are so many out of work, furloughed, or laid off, with no income and no food, much less money for their mortgage,” she said. “I’ve done this kind of work for 15 years now, and I’ve never seen anything this bad, not even during the big recession over 10 years ago.”
Despite its challenges, McGrath said the work is rewarding when she’s able to help clients like Gauthier, who came to the Urban League for assistance in August. Highly organized, motivated, and persistent, he made a memorable impression, she said.
“He was still on bed rest and recovering from his injury when we first talked,” McGrath recalled. “But he wanted to get up and go back to work right then. He was determined not to sit back and let this get him down. I know that made a difference in his recovery.”
Gauthier’s determination paid off. He qualified for nearly $4,000 in federal CARES Act mortgage assistance — enough to cover the payment deferrals he received from Wells Fargo. Overcoming so much adversity in 2020 is a source of pride for Gauthier, though he’s seen tough times in the past. More than 20 years ago, he was a lawyer and a judge in the Haitian legal system, until fleeing that country amid political violence. It has given him a deep appreciation for the U.S., he said.
“This country is a good country, you know,” Gauthier said. “I’ve worked hard to own a home here, and I did not want to lose it. So many people helped me along the way. I thank them all.”