Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on January 2, 2021. The author gave us permission to reprint the piece here. We did not change the time references since it would impact the flow of the piece.
INGLEWOOD, California — As you read this it should be the second day of 2021, or any day thereafter. As I write it , the first day of the new year has merely just ended a couple hours ago. If you could briefly describe your takeaway of 2020, followed by what you are grateful for, what would you say?
These are the topics toward which the fireside chat was steered as I spoke to Janet and her 60-year-old mother Ynes Torres on the evening of January 1, 2021. Janet Torres answered first and started by stating she never would have guessed that this would be happening right now: that she would have both ended 2020 and started the new year involved in a campaign to reclaim the house her mother was recently evicted from. She ended by expressing her gratitude for the people who have been devoting their time to help day after day. Ynes Torres and her family were evicted from their home of 14 years in Inglewood a month prior, on the last day of November, shortly after the most recent Safer At Home order was announced by Governor Gavin Newsom. The holiday season was upon us, and COVID-19 cases and deaths were hourly reported on by all news outlets, with some outlets like LA TImes choosing to focus on Hispanic communities as hot spots without taking into consideration that members of these communities do not have the luxury to stay at home. As you can imagine, as you have surely witnessed, COVID-19 has made experiences that are traumatic all on their own all the more terrifying for many people. Being forcibly removed from your home during a global pandemic that has altered nearly every facet of life is a nightmare that Ynes and her family have been forced to live through thanks to predatory real estate companies.
On November 30, Janet received a call from her younger sister telling her that there were people and cops outside of their home, enforcing an eviction. Janet immediately drove to her mother’s house and was met with police officers and representatives of Trojan Capital Investments, LLC at the steps of her mother’s door. I listened in disbelief as she showed me a recording of the encounter in which you can hear Janet telling the cop that her younger sister could not breathe and was experiencing panic attacks on the other side of the door.
The police and representatives of Trojan brush off exasperated pleas from Janet and you can see in the video how the Trojan rep closest to the door is not wearing a face mask. The police officer, who would not let Janet near her younger sister, nonchalantly responds, slightly annoyed, saying “Yes, you already said that, what do you want me to do?” Her younger sister was panicking as she was looking for paper work, proof that her mom was making payments and there should be no reason for this eviction. Janet calls an ambulance and her younger sister was soon after hauled away. Her panic attacks have not stopped since. Shortly after the eviction, her younger brother tested positive for COVID-19. These robotic men “just doing their job” would not even allow the children to grab any valuables, not even shoes. They could not even collect their animals. Trojan wanted them out of the house and, according to Janet, they had been spying on them for two days waiting for the right moment to pounce.
Another day, another displaced family. Nothing to see here, nothing that should warrant emotion, right? Just another home swindled from a working class family, a first-time homeowner. An immigrant mother, grandmother, and involved community member. A victim of the gentrification business.
As I spoke to Ynes and Janet, I learned how Ynes has been preyed upon and essentially conned into losing her home since 2008 when all along she was paying people who ensured her that they were doing their job, that they were modifying her loans, and filing paperwork on her behalf in order to prevent this very eviction from happening. Ynes explains to me how she purchased the home in 2006 by taking out two mortgage loans, survived the housing market crash in 2008, but sought help in modifying her loans from a Lina Norena of Legal Marketing Solutions. The Torres family explains that Lina confirmed to them that she would combine the loans into one. Since then, Ynes has been making payments on the larger loan to SPS, Select Portfolio Servicing, under the false belief that she is meeting all her payments. She was scheduled to make a payment the very day after she was evicted. Ynes is a Spanish speaker and relied on and trusted in the services of both Lina Torres and a man by the name of Santiago from Liderazgo Financiero, who was recommended by a friend when she began receiving notices from Trojan Capital Investments LLC, a private Newport Beach company owned by Don Allen Madden III. Santiago was charging Ynes his fee on top of lawyers fees and ensured her that she was not at risk of eviction. His business banner included the phrase “DON’T LOSE YOUR HOUSE TO FORECLOSURE.” Santiago apparently has closed up shop in South Gate and moved to Florida.
Unbeknownst to Ynes, her second mortgage was purchased by Trojan Capital Investments LLC in 2016 around the time that construction for the Rams SoFI stadium began. This multi-billion dollar project has been the center of discussion around gentrification since its inception. As reported by The Appeal, “while the stadium was in development, locals collected over 20,000 signatures (an impressive 20 percent of the entire population of Inglewood) asking for a vote on the project. But the City Council decided not to put the project on the ballot, instead unanimously voting in favor in February 2015.”
Inglewood Mayor James Butts, a former police chief, was a major advocate for the project in a move that many argue sold out the very neighborhood he is supposed to represent. Butts assured Inglewood that the SoFi stadium would revitalize “a city devoid of hope with no aspiration for the future.” This while not investing in the very future of the community, the school system. Instead Butts focused his efforts on pushing for entertainment projects that benefit the wealthy at the expense of Inglewood tenants. Butts has also backed the idea of a new Clippers arena, which has drawn criticism and speculation as to his real motivations since the Clippers owner, Mr. Ballmer, “paid $365,550 to a committee for the mayor’s re-election.”
As reported in Forbes, the SoFi stadium is the ‘“most expensive sports venue in the U.S.,” sitting right in the middle of a city whose “median household income [is] just over $46,000, according to Data USA, compared with a county-wide median household income of $68,000.” Keep in mind that many Black and Hispanic families where pushed into Inglewood as a result of housing discriminations and are now being priced out of their homes. When does it end?
We often hear people express opinions that residents bring this upon themselves. That they are not educated or informed enough to protect themselves and people dismiss what is happening with the mentality of “Buyer Beware.” But what are the people to do when the resources that should go towards repairing the school system are instead funneled into “pursuing development projects that would benefit the wealthy?” The Inglewood Unified School District has been in such shambles that the state had to take over in 2012. The issue of privatization of Inglewood’s schools is a topic that requires its own lengthy analysism but to paraphrase Thomas Tultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics, it is a crisis that was created by politicians and wealthy elites. It is leading toward the destruction of public schools as billionaires work on developing the charter school system with the help of state leaders who place “privatization friendly leaders in charge of school districts.” The people of Inglewood seem to be under attack from many different angles.
But back to Yness Torres and the aptly named Trojan Capital Investments. A simple Google search will pull up results showing that Trojan, Trinity, and CEO Don Allen Madden III have a reputation for buying second mortgages that are thought to be charged off, foreclosing, and auctioning homes off to their own financial company Trinity Financial Services LLC without notifying the primary lien holders of the foreclosure or sale. You can read the desperate questions of home owners in fear of losing their houses on sites such as JustAnswer.com and Avvo.com. In both these cases, the situation seems to be the same. How many of these real estate predators are out there? The Appeal also reported on Wedgewood Inc., describing it as a “bottom-feeding real estate firm that ‘acquires and flips 250 homes through foreclosure each month,’ according to a UCLA analysis. “Stealing from the elderly and the working class communities who are desperate to keep their homes, these predators seek those they can take advantage of and violently displace them.”
As I mentioned above, Ynes has been making payments to SPS and received a notification from Trinity on September 18, 2020 which included an insult of a “Special Offer.” The statement read as follows:
Dear Ynes Torres,
As a result of a foreclosure, Trinity Financial Services LLC. (hereafter “Trinity”) is the owner of the above referenced property. It is our understanding that you are residing in this property. Accordingly, Trinity intends to proceed with the eviction proceedings in order to obtain possession. However, before doing so, we are reaching out to you with a special offer.
Under this offer, Trinity will pay you Two Thousand Five Hundred Dollars ($2,500.00) to surrender possession of the property within 7 calendar days of receipt of this offer. This means that you will get to avoid the hassle and embarrassment of an eviction proceeding and move out on your own terms, with a little extra cash in your pocket to help you start fresh in your new home. However, you must act fast.
Evidently, Ynes did not accept this offer and was evicted. This is how she found out that her home had been sold to Trinity Financial Services, a move that the Torres family says was facilitated by Santiago. The man they were paying to protect them from foreclosure. There are multiple companies here, multiple individuals, who all conspired to legally steal the home of an elderly woman. On December 18, with the help of community members, Lennox-Inglewood Tenants Union and LA Voice activists, Ynes Torres and her children reclaimed their home. Since then they have remained in doors while community members bring them food and keep vigil 24/7 should the police show up to remove them once again.
The campaign has taken on the name of Posada Para Ynes, and activists and community members have organized in ways similar to other reclaim campaigns of the 90’s, and most recently El Sereno, where a “group of unhoused and housing-insecure families drew national attention when they began occupying 13 vacant CalTrans-owned homes.” In the midst of all of this turmoil, Ynes tells me that she still has esperanza, hope, that she will have her home in her possession once again. Witnessing community members come together to stand behind Ynes is nothing short of inspiring. It demonstrates that people are willing to stand up to predatory real estate companies who prioritize profits over people and make a living by targeting vulnerable communities like Inglewood. The campaign has the following goals:
- City, county, and state officials stop all evictions.
- Legislators pass protections from predatory lenders.
- Trojan Capital Investments, LLC CEO Don Allen Madden III negotiate the return of the house with the families.
Don Allen Madden III and his companies have not answered any phone calls or returned any messages. They have a shady system down and have been using it quite successfully for over a decade. Far removed from the havoc they wreak, they remain unresponsive in their city of Newport Beach. If they do not care about engaging in such egregious business practices, then the community must be warned about them. So far, a second family, the Sayas family (also from Inglewood), has come forward with the same story and they are in the process of fighting an eviction by Trojan Capital Investments as well. If you haveany information about Trojan Capital Investments, Trinity Financial Services, Liderazgo Financiero, or mortgage law head over to the Instagram page @PosadaparaYnes or Home For Ynes They are in need of legal representation and any more information that can help further their cause. Ynes’ driveway and the people who occupy it in shifts —while they organize, inform, and care for one another— are a testament to what people are willing to do to help each other. A community now united against outside threat. If you wish to help or contribute in any way, you can find her information on the Instagram page.
If you are familiar with history, you may have heard of the Trojan Horse that was presented as a gift to the city of Troy by the Greeks during the Trojan War. The wooden horse was allowed into Troy only because the Trojans were trusting enough to believe it was a gift. The Greeks constructed the wooden horse and in it hid a select force of men who were to infiltrate Troy and open the gates from the inside. Once in the city, the men waited until the city slept and then they opened the gates of Troy for the rest of the Greek army to enter. The city of Troy was violently destroyed.
It is very fitting that Don Allen Madden’s company bears the Trojan name as he himself is entering communities in order to destroy them from the inside. We must be vigilant of people, companies, developers who present themselves as “gifts” as people who are willing to help when they are only hiding sinister motives. The representatives of Inglewood have allowed many Trojan Horses to enter, and it is now up to the community itself to protect one another from invaders.
As Eddie —an Inglewood resident and housing rights activist— says in a video he recorded in support of the Torres family, “Ynes and her daughters have courageously taken a stand against these fraudulent mortgage companies that have inserted their foot inside working class communities of color… [the family] has shown to be a beacon of hope.”
That driveway has become an organizing space for people to come together and “show these speculators that [their] neighborhood is not for sale.”
As COVID-19 continues with no signs of slowing down and the wealth gap widens, protections need to be legally instated for homeowners. The eviction moratoriums contain many loopholes that do no protect people from foreclosure evictions. You cannot possibly demand people stay home while they are being actively preyed upon and their homes and livelihoods endangered. This is only the beginning for Ynes Torres, her family, and the citizens of Inglewood. May they be the catalyst that brings about real reform for housing rights and protections for those at risk of losing the city they call home.
Lourdes Amezcua is a Mexican-born, Los Angeles-raised writer and artist. She graduated from UCI with a BA in English Literature, and is passionate about truth, growth, and healing. Instagram: @amezcuasiete.