A World War II veteran who overcame harsh segregation and just celebrated his 100th birthday is fighting a new battle – against eviction from his Bedford-Stuyvesant home.
Centenarian James Been says he fears he is about to be tossed from his life-long residence because he can’t repay a $ 100,000 home equity loan he secured from JP Morgan Chase bank with his now late wife, Christine, in 2006, when he was 84. .
Been is now battling in the Brooklyn Supreme Court to avoid being kicked out on the street – and is arguing that it rightfully wants the bank to give such a loan to a person in their 80s.
“I really think Mr. Been was taken advantage of, ”his lawyer, Belinda Luu said. “This was a loan given at the height of the subprime mortgage crisis in the early to mid-200s. There was a lot of abusive predatory lending in the mortgage lending market at that time. “
In court papers responding to the bank foreclosure, Been and his lawyer claimed he was also the victim of forgery.
“A copy of the mortgage attached to the plaintiff’s complaint shows indications or forgery indicating that it is not enforceable .. at least one of the signatures for Mr. Been was forged, ”said Luu.
Been signed for the loan with his wife after the original mortgage on the house on Halsey Street was paid off, according to loan documents. But when asked about the circumstances of the loan, Been would recall taking it out, and said there was no need for him to go into debt.
“My wife might have taken out a loan – not me. Why would I take out a $ 100,000 loan? I don’t need a loan. My gosh, ”Been told The Post.
The bank’s lawyers filed the foreclosure case in December 2018 after Been failed to make monthly repayments.
“It’s incredible that he has survived 100 years of being black in America and this generation is still protesting for the recognition that his life matters. He fought in WWII, worked his entire life, and has done everything this country asked of him – he should have had to worry about losing his home, ”said Luu, an attorney with Mobilization for Justice.
“I think it’s wrong to give a mortgage to someone who is in his 80s who has the ability to pay.”
Lawyers handling the case for JP Morgan Chase had no immediate comment.
The Brooklynite native resided at the Halsey Street house he inherited from his parents nearly his entire life.
JP Morgan Chase and other banks came under criticism for giving out shaky loans that critics say triggered the subprime morthage crisis and the Great Recession of 2008. JP Morgan reached a $ 13 billion settlement with the US government in 2013 over claims it executed bad mortages that it sold to. investors.
Civic leaders and neighbors visited Been at his home on Friday to celebrate his centenarian milestone.
Been served as a radio operator in the South Pacific as part of the segregated, all-black, 93rd Army Division during WW II. He then worked 30 years as a trolley operator and bus driver before retiring from the Transit Authority in 1975.
“We were segregated in the military. It was stupid, ”he said. “It’s all better together. We should practice the bible, not just read it. ”
Been recalled going to a movie theater while in uniform in Spartanburg, South Carolina, while stationed at Camp Crofit. He was the only black person on the line.
“I was told by the ticket agent to go around to the back of the building to get a ticket. I was taken back. It gave me chills, ”the centenarian said.
“I just came from the North. I was in uniform! ”
Commenting on the George Floyd police brutality killing, Been said law enforcement treatment of African-Americans needed to improve.
“That was terrible. “It’s all human,” he said. “The police are supposed to be righteous. It’s giving the police a bad name. You’re not right at all. It just surprise me. Every few years these incidents occur. ”