In the living room rests a three-wheeled bike she uses to pedal around her neighborhood, soaking in the
Angelyn, 14, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was 6 months old. She's worked hard in school, becoming an honor roll student, and learned through extensive physical therapy to increase her mobility.
But now the home where she's lived most of her life is at risk. Her family's politically connected lender is foreclosing, meaning Angelyn and her parents could be kicked out. Their debt? A short-term, high-interest "balloon" mortgage — obtained by a family attorney and approved by a state judge — that the family says it never had a prayer of paying off.
This home is all Angie knows.
"This home is all Angie knows," said
In 2007, a medical malpractice suit won Angelyn what seemed like long-term financial security: A settlement worth nearly
Her parents set up a special-needs trust and moved to
Credit was tight at the end of 2008 and Angelyn's parents — high school graduates who didn't have steady jobs — had few options if they wanted to buy such a pricey home: The real estate bubble had burst. Their credit was bad and they had never purchased real estate before. Bank coffers were running on empty. But the spacious home had plenty of room for Angelyn's equipment and the neighborhood just south of
But the loan the trust received was unusual for a low-income family like Angelyn's. The
The family was never able to come up with that much cash, although the lender,
"Benworth has bent over backwards to help the Gutierrez family only to be compensated with insults [and] fraud allegations," Navarro wrote in an email. "Despite the numerous extensions given by Benworth, the Gutierrezes stopped paying the loan and have made no attempts to better their credit and/or obtain a refinancing prior to the loan's maturity."
Asked why Benworth felt comfortable giving a high-risk loan to the family, Navarro wrote: "In their joint loan application,
The Gutierrez family complained to the
Navarro, a philanthropist and former president of the
Benworth has bent over backwards to help the Gutierrez family.
Loans like the one the Gutierrez family took out are like "playing with dynamite," said
"Interest-only is appealing up front because you're not paying down the principal so it's a lower monthly cost," Thomas said. "But then it comes down with a sledge-hammer at the end. The lump-sum payment can be crippling to a lot of people. Banks [and other lenders] have to be careful about making loans that are suitable for customers."
Special-needs trusts are meant to provide care for a disabled person's lifetime. Money in the trust is not counted against eligibility for needs-based governments programs such as
Angelyn's parents also used
Now the trust money is almost all gone, apart from the monthly annuity. But Angelyn's need for physical therapy and close supervision remains. Her mother estimates the annual cost of her care, including physical therapy and government support, as at least
There's also a question about how much money went into the trust in the first place. After expenses were taken out and the annuity purchased, court records show the trust was supposed to be seeded with
A court-appointed monitor is investigating the matter.
In 2014, Benworth finally decided to foreclose. The case has dragged on in court, but the family could lose the home after a September trial.
Navarro said Benworth is willing to take less than it is owed and pointed out that the leftover money from the sale of the house — valued as high as
Meanwhile, a probate judge is considering removing Aida and Flavio as co-guardians of the home. Just
If the lender takes the home, the family will have little money to afford a new residence in
Latin Builders Association Courtesy
Flavio says he makes about
The family paid
The family's other child, Javier, 27, an aviation mechanic, helps out financially when he can.
The lump-sum payment can be crippling to a lot of people.
"It is hard to determine what facts were presented to the judge in the parties' petition to purchase a home since there is no hearing transcript,"
Cohen is negotiating with the mortgage company but said the family may well lose the house, given the state of its finances.
"I do not think the interests of the child and the parents are identical, at least with respect to the property interests of the child," Cohen told the Herald in an email.
The family's new attorney,
Angelyn's parents have gone public asking for help before. In 2011, the family appeared in a Miami Herald Wishbook column seeking to raise charitable donations for a van to transport Angelyn. The next year, a team of
A bright girl
Angelyn excels at school. She made the honor roll at
She can't speak, but she's learned to use a computer to talk for her, controlling it with touches of her right knee. She eats through a G-tube, a feeding device inserted into her abdomen. She can swim from one side of the family pool to the other without stopping, a feat accomplished after years of physical therapy.
But when she overhears her parents talking about losing the home, she starts to cry, her mother says. She kicks out her legs in frustration and fear.
Aida Gutierrez Courtesy
She and her family seem like unlikely customers of Benworth, a hard money lender that deals in the world of unconventional mortgages.
The firm offers loans "that are not usually available at commercial banks, mortgage companies and other traditional lenders," its website states. "Loan approval decisions rely less on credit scores and more on the value of the property in relation to the loan amount. This makes it possible for borrowers with isolated credit incidents, short-sales or certain bankruptcy conditions to qualify for a loan. Since a Benworth private loan requires low documentation, the alternative is attractive to foreign nationals who seek to acquire property in
Back in 2008, the Gutierrez family hired
Angelyn's parents immediately struggled to keep up with the payments.
After the family missed a deadline in 2009, Benworth agreed to lower its interest rate to 10 percent. Then, when the loan came due in 2011 and the family had to pay back all
Teen girl with cerebral palsy faces eviction
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